3/31/2008 10:57:27 AM
The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has joined a minor league soccer team, according to the Guardian. Morales has used his soccer skills for politics before, rising to the top of a coca growers’ union after being noticed on the soccer field. Since then, he was elected as the country’s first indigenous president.
The next step should be to organize an international sporting expo, with Evo Morales playing soccer, Vladimir Putin fighting Judo, and George Bush… cheerleading.
(Thanks, FP Passport.)
Image by Agência Brasil, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/31/2008 10:47:37 AM
Fidel Castro’s recent abdication of power in Cuba was quickly in and out of the headlines, as was the ascension of his brother, Raúl, to the communist getaway’s executive office. The folks over at Foreign Policy, however, fill the media gap with a different perspective on the new Castro regime: that of Alina Fernández, Fidel’s estranged daughter. Fernández left Cuba in 1993, but still offers some surprisingly warm, if skeptical, appraisals of Raúl Castro’s personality as a leader and Cuban revolutionary.
3/28/2008 5:36:40 PM
Some look at death row inmates and see the vilest people in the world. Others see victims awaiting murder by the state. Graeme Wood sees organs—viable transplant organs.
Writing for Good, he argues that the methods used to dispatch the inmates make it impossible to harvest their organs for transplants. Instead, he suggests using “the Mayan Protocol,” a process developed by, yes, the Mayans through vivisecting human sacrifices. In this method the organ removal becomes the means of execution. “If this sounds inhumane,” Wood writes, “compare it to current practices: botched hangings, painfully long gassings, and messy electrocutions. Removal of the heart, lungs, and kidneys (under anesthesia, of course) would kill every time, without an instant of pain.”
Such a practice would undoubtedly face hurdles. It has been a long-standing practice that doctors don’t murder patients, a tenet that has prevented them from participating in lethal injections. There is also the concern of consent. Inmates may agree to donate their organs as a way to curry support with judges or prison guards. Wood argues, however, that the real objection to the Mayan Protocol would be symbolic. Victims of families and the public in general don’t want criminals martyred for an altruistic cause.
And, of course, there is the creep factor:
But being creeped out is the price of living in a society that kills its criminals. If organ harvesting would make executions uncomfortably like human sacrifice, perhaps that’s because our death chambers are already gory enough to make anyone but a Mayan high priest pale.
An interesting point, but perhaps our energies could be better spent when it comes to death row reformation. As one commenter on the article notes: Why discuss the best way to kill inmates when we should be trying to end capital punishment?
3/26/2008 11:31:50 AM
Don’t fret, America. The U.S. journalist Michael Lind has taken to the pages of the UK's Prospect to dispatch with three persistent myths about American instability and decline: divisive racial and ethnic rivalries, encroaching religious fundamentalism, and impending bankruptcy from baby boomer retirement. These myths enjoy continuing popularity, Lind contends, because the U.S. media feeds on the sensationalism they stir up.
The essay’s meticulous construction would make Lind's high school writing teachers proud. Wielding statistics and studies, he deconstructs each of the three fears one by one. By his account, the conclusion that minorities will outnumber whites in the near-future is a fear-mongering tactic, based on the arbitrary racial categories in the U.S. Census. As for the country’s supposed balkanization: The melting pot, he assures, is still stewing diverse groups together.
And while Americans are more religious than western Europeans, the nation is growing more secular. The religious right is less a national phenomenon to be feared than “an ethnic and regional movement” of white southern Protestants, best understood as a label adopted as less racist-sounding than “white southerner.”
Finally, Lind calms fears about the failure of the Social Security system. The crisis amounts to “nothing more than the fact that taxes will have to be raised or benefits cut before 2041 in order to supplement a mostly sound system,” Lind concludes.
Of course, Lind doesn’t disappoint the savvy reader with a blithely cheery forecast. Problems we should address, according to Lind, are declining social mobility, increasing healthcare costs, and allowing our international commitments “to exceed the resources that the public is willing to allot to foreign policy.” These are problems, not fuel for paranoia, and they require careful consideration.
3/26/2008 9:25:49 AM
Most of us would agree that a higher standard of living in poor countries is needed. But such a transformation might have surprising consequences. The middle class in poor nations is growing more quickly than any other part of the population, Foreign Policy reports, and that affects prices—and lifestyles—globally. Because more people can afford to eat more, the cost of food is rising. With that comes unrest. Protests have cropped up worldwide over the price of tortillas in Mexico or soybeans in Indonesia. Eventually, demand in these countries will increase for appliances, homes, and cars. Similar shifts in prices are expected. If, due to demand, prices for resources like water and oil reflect actual costs, it will change what it means to be middle class in the West. We might have to think more carefully about turning on the tap or hopping in the car as our purchasing power shrinks.
(Thanks, Yale Global Online.)
3/21/2008 3:21:29 PM
As recently as the 1960s, many local governments in the United States had official ordinances outlawing African Americans. Rare in the South, these “sundown towns”—named for a sign at the city limits of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, that read, “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On You In Our Town”—were common in the rest of the country. The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, made it illegal to formally discriminate when selling or renting property. But sundown policies didn’t disappear so much as they went underground, and all-white towns remain even today.
Sociologist James Loewen detailed this history in Sundown Towns (New Press, 2005). Last year, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly encouraged congregations to look into their own histories of participation in institutionalized racism. Writing recently for UU World, Loewen suggests that they might start by confirming whether their communities ever formally excluded African Americans, and he includes several tips for doing this.
At the local public library, start with U.S. Census data on the town and look for a sudden drop in the black population. Or look for a steady number of African Americans amid increases in the overall population and increases in the black populations of nearby towns. If you find anything, search newspapers from the relevant years for evidence of actions to keep African Americans out. And look at local history books and files of newspaper clippings on race-related subjects. If the research leads you to suspect a sundown policy, talk to the local history librarian and to other local history authorities you can track down.
Loewen offers some savvy strategies for getting information that people might not be thrilled to share. And he urges those who do uncover damning evidence to publicize it and force their communities to own up to their ugly pasts, because doing so also can compel people to address the segregation and discrimination that still exist today.
Image of Lancaster, Ohio, 1938, from the Farm Security Administration Historical Section.
3/19/2008 1:43:38 PM
Yesterday, Barack Obama gave a major speech in Philadelphia on the subject of race. This followed last week’s media tempest over sermon excerpts by the senator’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Obama rejected the controversial statements, carefully stood up for the man himself, and moved on to grander themes.
Few commentators have been willing to get much closer than Obama did to actually defending what Wright said—most notoriously, “God damn America.” Most have started by condemning it and proceeded to focus on why all this is or isn’t relevant to the presidential campaign.
But a couple of people have provided some helpful context. Writing on the Huffington Post, Frank Schaeffer, son of the late religious right icon Francis Schaeffer, points out that, naughty words aside, the spirit of “God damn America” is commonplace in far-right pulpits. He observes that when his father “denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government” over issues such as secular humanism and legal abortion, “he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush Sr.”
What’s more, Jonathan L. Walton argues in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, many right-wing preachers are far more offensive than Wright: Unlike him, though, they don’t have the moral authority of a leader of a systematically oppressed community. “There is a difference between speaking truth to power in defense of the least of these," insists Walton, “and scapegoating the defenseless on behalf of the status-quo.” Both Wright and the elder Schaeffer’s successors are clearly prone to hyperbole—they don't actually want to see God or anyone else destroy America. But the religious right doesn’t share Wright’s inheritance of a long tradition of using extreme rhetoric to illuminate extreme injustice: the tradition of the black church pulpit.
Black church preaching can be difficult for white people to hear—even for religion scholars, as Diana Butler Bass attests on God’s Politics, a blog of Sojourners magazine. Bass takes a look at black preaching throughout U.S. history, finding that “throughout the entire corpus, black Christian leaders leveled a devastating critique against their white brothers and sisters—accusing white Christians of maintaining ‘ease in Zion’ while allowing black people to suffer injustice and oppression.” Hearing Wright over and over on television, Bass says she doesn’t “hear the words of a ‘dangerous’ preacher... I hear Frederick Douglass.”
Also on God’s Politics, Adam Taylor places Wright firmly within the “black prophetic tradition,” noting that even the revered Martin Luther King Jr. made some pretty incendiary statements, though they’re not the ones we’ve chosen to immortalize. “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty.” That’s not Wright, leading up to “God damn America.” That’s Dr. King.
Here’s how Wright did immediately follow last week’s ubiquitous three-word sound bite: “That’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.” It was a jeremiad, a passionate, hyperbolic sermon with activist motives. It’s no coincidence that Jeremiah’s giving jeremiads—both the term and the name come from the Hebrew Bible prophet Jeremiah. Like other biblical prophets, Jeremiah, claiming to speak for God, denounced Israel. “On your skirts is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor,” he declared. “You shall be put to shame.”
Wright’s no extremist; he’s an especially provocative participant in a rhetorically colorful tradition that predates the Civil War—and in a broader one that’s literally ancient. The prophet Jeremiah’s fellow citizens tried to kill him. But, through the lens of distance and his inclusion in the canon, Jews and Christians take it as received wisdom that Jeremiah was right. The Israelites were wrong to attack someone willing to speak truth to power, however indelicately. And Americans are wrong to do it now.
3/19/2008 11:54:43 AM
It’s been a month since the Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle phenomenon swept the internet. It was quickly linked to by blogs at the New York Times, the Politico, Time, the Economist, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, and many others, including this one. The site was started by Matthew Honan, a freelance writer and contributing editor for Wired magazine. Since then, the idea has taken off, with spin-off sites for many of the major players in the 2008 elections. Here are a few:
Hillary Clinton Is Your New Bicycle
- The “New Bicycle” crowd goes negative, mostly filled with jokes about her being ornery
- My favorite: “Hillary Clinton Hates This American Life”
John McCain Is Your New Bicycle
- Not funny
- Just one static message: "John McCain (Still) Isn't Going Anywhere"
John McCain Is Your New Jalopy
- Mostly simple old-person jokes, but still amusing
- My favorite: “John McCain Fell Asleep on the Bus and Missed His Stop”
Ron Paul Is Your New Bicycle
- By far the strangest of the bunch
- My favorite: “Ron Paul Is Pretty Sure the Guy Across the Street Is CIA”
George Bush Is Your New Bicycle
- No, he’s not a candidate, but he gets his own page anyway
- My favorite: “George Bush Waterboarded Your Cat”
Ralph Nader Is Your New Bicycle
- Poor Ralph
- My favorite: “Ralph Nader Sent the Fire Marshall After You”
Where’s the love for Mike Gravel and Alan Keyes?
—Bennett Gordon (Might Be your New Bicycle)
3/18/2008 1:07:41 PM
Last night, I basked in the TiVo’d glow of “Rock of Love 2,” watching the still-bandana’d lead singer of Poison navigate the treacherous territory of reality TV love. It was a hard night for Bret Michaels: The highly volatile yet smokin’ hot Kristy Joe shocked and awed with her decision to leave, opting not “to stay in this house and rock my world” (Bret’s version of the Bachelor’s rose offering includes this phrase and a backstage pass).
My husband and I look forward to this show every week, sometimes going as far as to privilege it over catching up on “The Wire.” We’re not alone in this guilty pleasure. Conan O’Brien admits his writers are oddly enamored with the program. And the folks at SNL must be too, given Tina Fey’s pitch-perfect impersonation late last month of Bret’s blubber-lipped suitor Daisy. Despite the safety in numbers, though, as the credits rolled last night, I dissolved into shamed giggles, simultaneously revolted and delighted by this pageant of excess and debauchery. “Why do we watch this?” I asked my husband. His response: “To witness America jumping the shark.”
That got me thinking about some other recent clips signaling the country’s tumbling denouement. There was Robert Greenwald’s recent video compilation tracking the spread of Fox News’s anti-Obama bile into other network coverage. Bare with it until the end—through the ominous, conservatives-are-going-to-drink-your-first-born’s-blood music—and you’ll hear a Fox Radio commentator likening the candidate to Hitler:
And then there was President Bush’s tap-dance routine, performed for the press before his markedly less peppy endorsement of John McCain. (This time, you’ll have to wait through a segment featuring a sex act between the state of Florida and Michigan.)
All of which could send a person into a depressive TV coma. That is, if it weren’t for Tracy Morgan, whose rejoinder to “30 Rock” costar Tina Fey’s “Bitch Is the New Black” monologue on Weekend Update made me squeal once again with delight—this time free of shame—and hold out hope that the country still has a few good seasons left.
3/12/2008 10:38:43 AM
In this era of pervasive fear, it's important to remember that U.S. history is littered with violent acts of terrorism
by Morgan Winters
We live in an almost constant state of fear. As Americans, as global citizens, as a species—it seems like the end is just around the corner. Whether Armageddon is the result of a vengeful deity, the degradation of our planet, or a few extremists with the hook-up on nuclear warheads, things are looking pretty bleak. But all hope is not lost. A group of level-headed folks at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., want us to know that we’re not completely screwed. Or at least not any more screwed than we’ve been for the last 230-odd years. While they don’t weigh in on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or the melting of the polar icecaps, they’ve shown, pretty convincingly, in the museum’s first traveling exhibit, The Enemy Within, that terrorism is no bigger a threat today than it was in those dark days when the Redcoats razed Washington.
The Enemy Within, which opened at the Spy Museum in 2004 and has been making the rounds since 2005, is at the Minnesota History Center through May 4. The exhibit recounts the violent and tumultuous events within the United States that have most threatened the nation over the course of its history, beginning with the American Revolution and working chronologically toward September 11, 2001. Between these two defining moments, the exhibit explores the many forms terrorism has taken, from right wing militias and hate groups to government-sponsored violence against protesters.
Each section of the exhibit concludes with a Gallup polling kiosk where visitors can respond to questions regarding potential threats to domestic security and how they think the government should handle them. These questions are paired with data from historic Gallup polls that asked similar questions. For example, visitors are asked whether they think the government should have the authority to deport or indefinitely detain people suspected of supporting groups hostile to the United States. Forty-six percent of visitors strongly believed the government should have such authority; 18 percent strongly disagreed; and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. But when Gallup asked an almost identical question in 2002, when images of 9/11 were still flashing constantly across our television screens, 77 percent were in favor of doing away with that constitutional guarantor of justice, habeas corpus.
It is these questions and their responses, more than all the exhibit’s historical displays and archives, that give the most insight into our nation’s relationship with its violent past. While the instances of terror chronicled throughout the exhibit are important chapters in history, their true relevance is in the way they have preyed upon our sense of security, shaping our culture by affecting our collective perception of the way the world is. It is telling that, as the hysteria surrounding a terrorist attack fades, so too does the vigor in which American citizens call for heightened security at the expense of their personal freedoms.
The insidious fear of another attack poisons us. And it is often this very fear that leads to the terrorist brand of violence we wish to guard against. Fear is not only a reaction to terrorism; it is also often a cause. Mohamed Atta and company may have been more angry and unhinged by religious zealotry than afraid when they carried out the World Trade Center attacks, but historically, the catalyst for terrorism in America has often been fear. The anarchists of the 1920s, fearful about the lack of jobs and incidents of police brutality, lashed out with violence of their own. The Japanese internment camps of World War II, examples of the government terrorizing its own people, were a response to a nearly forgotten spree of violence by a Japanese pilot and his Japanese-American conspirator on the Hawaiian island of Niihau. These instances of terrorism didn’t just inspire fear; they were inspired by fear.
Today, we see troubling signs of similar fears that might erupt in violence. Peter Earnest, director of the Spy Museum and a 35-year veteran of the CIA, looks to our shared border with Mexico as perhaps the next battleground in the war on terror at home. He’s not talking about jihadists slipping undetected over the border into the United States. Earnest sees the anti-immigrant hysteria plaguing the southwest border states as having violent undertones. The formation of militia groups like the Minute Men is directly in line with violent movements of the past. He says he fears a potential “tipping point,” where anti-immigrant sentiment will escalate from merely political expression to violent, terroristic acts against immigrants. In this scenario, it is fear—of fabled lost jobs and leprosy-bearing émigrés—that will ultimately set these events in motion.
The image of an invading army within our borders is so obscure it is almost unimaginable. But ominously ticking packages, gun-toting reactionaries, and fiery airliners barreling into buildings—these are the things of our nightmares. Whether it’s the visceral, heart-palpitating horror that comes with death; the slow, creeping dread of imminent financial disaster; or the more abstract, everyday worry caused by opening the daily newspaper, we are never completely free from it.
When we’re not actively scared in one way or another, we’re doing what we do best to forget our fears: shopping, watching television, shopping for televisions. And that’s because there is plenty to fear. But our fears are no greater than those humankind has carried throughout history. With a little historic perspective, our fear looks like the natural, insignificant birthright of a species that can reasonably understand the inevitabilities of life but do little to change them. The Enemy Within doesn’t try to offer answers to conquering these fears. Rather, it shines a light on the boogiemen, often inflated by politicians and the media, in our closets and under our beds. Whether seeing them makes life more or less scary is just a matter of perspective.
Outside the Minnesota History Center, the streets of downtown St. Paul are quiet and nearly empty. The city seems too tranquil to be threatening. But from the sides of buildings and the crossbeams of streetlights, security cameras gaze down upon the sparse traffic. Maybe this system of cameras will be used to catch a murderer or stop a major terrorist attack on the empty metropolis. But more than likely, they’ll only be used to catch the tagger who spray-painted the display window at Macy’s, or to check out the busty brunette in the low-cut top hustling to a lunch meeting. That this type of public surveillance infringes on privacy is beside the point—it is undoubtedly a symptom of our fear, a hollow assurance that, so long as somebody is watching, nothing can go wrong.
Images of Quantrill’s Raiders, c. 1860, (top) and KKK March on Washington, D.C., 1925, (bottom) courtesy of the International Spy Museum. Image of FBI Warning Poster, 1943, (middle) courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
3/11/2008 1:29:55 PM
Residents of a former tent city in Portland, Oregon, have slowly transformed their home from a makeshift campsite into a permanent, thriving community called Dignity Village. Dignity is made up of 60 once-homeless men and women who all pitch in with duties ranging from administration to security to homebuilding. The village’s website is as well-organized as the community itself, featuring news, photos, and writing by the residents.
(Thanks, Deputy Dog.)
3/10/2008 5:04:59 PM
I’m typically not a paranoid person. I try to see the best in people. I’m a college student on a liberal campus in the heart of the Midwest.
But lately, there’s been a growing suspicion, a fear of the soft-spoken introverted guy in the same lecture as I am. School shootings have been a concern in the media for the past 10 years, but the issue has eluded thoughtful political discourse since the wake of the Columbine massacre. With two major shootings on college campuses in the past year, I am wondering: What will it take to make gun control an issue?
“Barack Obama offers hope and Hillary Clinton offers solutions, but they offer little of either on gun control,” Derrick Z. Jackson writes in the Boston Globe. Indeed, all that the candidates, including “straight talk” John McCain, seem to offer on gun violence are condolences. If a murder-suicide in a major university classroom doesn’t spark some debate, what will? Second Amendment preservation seems to stretch across party lines, with nobody willing to take a stand on tougher gun control laws.
In fact, it seems the opposite is occurring. Currently, 15 states are weighing bills to make it easier to carry guns on campuses, the New York Times reports. A main proponent of this movement is Arizona State Senator Karen S. Johnson, who says, “I feel like our kindergartners are sitting there like sitting ducks.” See, she felt the bill should cover all public schools, K-12.
Meanwhile, a “heavily-medicated” man who was institutionalized within the past ten years was able to legally purchase six weapons in Illinois. And the ammunition he used to kill five at Northern Illinois University? Purchased from the same website as the Virginia Tech killer.
So if I’m a little shifty-eyed in the lecture hall, please forgive me. Access to guns is as easy as ever, and with nobody willing to talk about it, I fear it’s only going to get worse.
3/7/2008 3:36:40 PM
You can fit a lot on the back of an envelope: Return addresses, goofy stickers, or, in the case of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s erudite readers, architectural designs for George W. Bush’s presidential library.
The Chronicle put out a call for entries to a “Back-of-the-Envelope Design Contest,” and its current architecture issue showcases the best of the some 120 submissions.
Contenders include the Temple, which features a “FEMA garden awaiting attention”; the Cross Layout with a global warming sunroom and a language lab for “what I meant to say”; a missile-shaped Bunker that sports a “telecommunications/listening surveillance lounge”; the Plaza, where folks could visit the “Al Gore Lawn for meditation on what could have been had he been elected president”; and the Hole in the Ground (above), tucked behind a tromp l’oeil White House façade.
Tour through the designs and watch writer Scott Carlson’s video parsing the history of presidential libraries and the intricacies of the various entries. Then cast your vote for the winner (free registration required).
“If you felt your vote didn’t count in 2000,” Carlson assures, “it will certainly count here. The winning designer will get an iPod Touch.”
Image courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
3/6/2008 2:58:29 PM
News of the diplomatic crisis unfolding in northern South America has been buried by an increasingly tiresome slew of Obama-vs.-Clinton headlines. The savvy bloggers at the Latin Americanist have been posting frequent updates about the Colombia-Ecuador dispute, and as a bonus, they’re also presenting a series of fascinating, moving films on the historical impact of some of the region’s guerrilla and paramilitary groups.
There’s a new clip every day this week (each is about ten minutes long), and those posted so far focus on Peru’s Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A), and Chile’s Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front. (Heads-up: Non-Spanish speakers, you'll be limited to the Triple A film, which is the only one with subtitles.)
3/6/2008 11:18:41 AM
My roommate and I spend most of our time arguing about electoral politics. But back in college, our endless debate was about globalization. I played the pragmatic activist to his idealistic moralizer: He insisted that we avoid patronizing any corporation guilty of evil deeds overseas, while I maintained that our energy would be better spent organizing a collective effort than purifying our own consumerist souls. “Fair enough,” he’d say, grinning in anticipation of stumping me. “How?”
Of course, in those days, the Internets were even less sophisticated than our arguments. Now, any 12-year-old can start a boycott from her cell phone.
A new website aims to be an ideologically neutral hub of such efforts. At The Point, you can initiate any sort of campaign you like simply by describing the objective, the number of people needed, what’s potentially required of each of them (the “tipping action”), and the deadline for joining. Other users browse the campaigns and sign on to the ones they choose, and the site lets you know when you have enough people to take action.
Current campaigns range from the seriously political to the entirely silly, from the international to the hyper-local, from the doable to the quixotic. Imagine the possibilities if this had been around sooner: Nader-Gore vote-swapping efforts may have gotten more traction, perhaps changing the 2000 election’s outcome. It’s possible that Jennifer Hudson’s fans would have come up with the votes for her to win American Idol, and Abraham might have found 10 righteous people and saved Sodom and Gomorrah. And my roommate and I could have done something more constructive than just feeling really bad every time we bought anything.
3/6/2008 11:04:06 AM
Legions of middle-aged women follow travel aficionado Rick Steves’ televised tours through Europe. Now the ACLU of Washington hopes they will follow him in the crusade to legalize marijuana. Last month the ACLU launched an infomercial hosted by Steves about the unjust history and legacy of marijuana law, the Stranger reports. According to station guidelines, the 30-minute show cannot advocate any legal reform, so it urges viewers to visit its website. The ACLU’s target audience is mothers, who are proven to respond to the infomercial format. Among Steves’ credentials for addressing marijuana law, besides his travel-tested appeal to moms, are two teenage children and time spent in Europe, where, Steves says in an ACLU news release, he “learned that more thoughtful approaches can work.” Steves says the United States should follow Europe’s example and treat “drug use as a public health issue instead of building more jails.”
3/6/2008 10:48:27 AM
It’s hard to believe even people who support invasive government programs (neocons, Ralph Nader, Darth Vader) would want the Department of Motor Vehicles making any more inroads into their lives than the already-annoying drivers’ license renewal requirements. But the infamous REAL ID program is coming, and we’re all about to get to know the friendly folks at the DMV a lot better.
Besides being inconvenient and disturbing to many Americans, a federally mandated data collection system holds some real dangers, and some groups will be more at risk than others, Reason reports. At the forefront are certain religious groups and victims of domestic violence. Unless you’re living in 1692 Salem, it’s difficult to buy the Amish claim that REAL ID is the mark of the beast. But the article makes a good case for the deleterious effects the program will have on domestic abuse victims.
For example, in the past, a woman trying to escape her shotgun-wielding, meth-smoking ex could, as a last resort, move to another state and find anonymity. This won’t be the case much longer, after the nationwide REAL ID rollout begins in May. All DMV databases will be linked. If Psycho Hank knows a cop, a clerk at the DMV, or anybody with a state or federal computer with the proper access, he can find the object of his violent, unrequited affection whether she moves to Alabama or Alaska. And there’s always the case of the stolen state-employee laptop containing confidential information, which seems to make a biannual appearance in the headlines of newspapers around the country. In this scenario, a thief won’t just have access to a few thousand Social Security numbers, as in the good old days, but a potential entry point into the personal information of the entire country.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the system will be closely guarded and the cards themselves will be needed only when going into a federal building, getting on an airplane, or entering a nuclear power plant. This would sound minimally invasive, in light of all the other crap we put up with in our post-9/11 lives, but for two key points. First, DHS being DHS, there is a loophole the size of the Grand Canyon that allows for basically unlimited expansion of the program. Second, REAL ID cards are actually going to see the light of day a lot more than DHS would have us believe, considering they will be replacing traditional drivers’ licenses.
The identification system we have in place offers adequate security; it is the people overseeing the system who leave us open to the threat of 30 terrorists obtaining IDs and hopping on planes. Rather than expanding government control over American citizens, legislators should allocate funds for more training for DMV employees at a fraction of the price to tax payers. The bottom line is this program is overreaching, expensive, and a real pain in the ass. Perhaps an implanted computer chip or serial-number tattoo might be next. Hey, when it comes to domestic security, it’s whatever’s most convenient for Big Brother, right?
3/3/2008 1:33:21 PM
My leg shook slightly as I stepped up to the microphone in front of the Senate District 60 Democratic convention in Minneapolis on Saturday. The mayor of Minneapolis was in the room, and congressman Keith Ellison and Senate candidate Al Franken had recently finished speaking. Now it was the hoi polloi’s chance to make their voices heard by starting small constituencies of support for candidates and issues. One person said confidently, “Supporting Al Franken, clean energy.” I stood up nervously and said, “Bennett Gordon, uncommitted on candidates. No-Flush Toilets.”
The crowd burst into laughter.
The issue of no-flush toilets is meant to be funny: It’s a little toilet humor in politics to bring up a serious issue. The U.N. Development Programme reports that more than “1 billion people lack access to water and over 2.4-billion lack access to basic sanitation.” Some Americans, however, continue to flush up to seven gallons of potable water away with use of the toilet. That’s no joke.
When I floated the idea of supporting no-flush toilets at my local caucus a few weeks ago, a spirited discussion ensued. Initially, one man spoke up and yelled, “Not in my house!” Another person tried to fight the resolution by saying that water usage in Minnesota had nothing to do with the rest of the world. I disagreed, and others came to my defense. In the end the resolution passed nearly unanimously, with one abstention.
From that discussion, the resolution was put up for a vote at the Senate District convention. You can see the ballot at right.
I believe that change toward no-flush toilets can take place gradually. Retrofitting every house in America with waterless toilets would be costly and politically unfeasible. When building new government facilities, however, water-conserving toilets are entirely possible. In the long run, investing in environmentally responsible toilets would save the government money on water bills, increase funding for sustainable technologies, and pave the way toward a no-flush future.
Part of the problem is that people don’t want to talk about what happens in the bathroom. Bathrooms are “the last frontier of the taboo—where sexuality studies was forty years ago,” Professor Harvey Moltoch told the New Yorker. And Molotch should know. He teaches a course for the New York University Department of Social and Cultural Analysis called “The Urban Toilet.”
If progress is to be made on serious environmental issues, uncomfortable subjects and accepted social norms must be addressed, or else all the hard work on water conservation might as well be flushed down the toilet.
At the convention, various people thanked me for raising the issue, but few joined my cause. To send a delegate to the next political level (the state convention), a caucus must have 29 supporters at the event. The No-Flush Toilets subcaucus garnered three people, including me. Eventually, we joined with other environment subcaucuses and collectively were able to send a single delegate to the state convention. The tallies have not yet been counted on the resolution in support of no-flush toilets, but we should know by next week.
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