One Wrong Step

25 03 2010

Walk down your street. Cross the road. Step onto a sidewalk. Now step off the sidewalk. Oops – you’re paralyzed from the waist down.

Too extreme? Get into your car. Drive down a 40 mph road. Oops – you got a flat front tire, swirved into a ditch, and now you’re a quadriplegic.

This is how fast, and how randomly, it happens to people every day. A physical disability is just one step off a curb away from anybody. When it happens, you’re going to need help. Just don’t ask these guys.

“If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town. Nothing for free. You have to work for everything you get,” one teabagger chided, bending over to get in the face of the seated older man. The next Tea Partier dropped a dollar in his face, saying, “Start a pot, I’ll pay for you. I’ll decide when to give you money,” in a mocking tone of voice. After some grumbling about “Communism,” an offscreen teabagger yelled, “No more handouts!”

Really? This is the best we can do in this country? Now I’m not saying you should never yell at someone with a disability. People are people and all people piss off some people sometimes – I think that’s a variation on an old saying – but yelling these remarks at someone who is peacefully rallying for health care reform that will help his situation is unreasonable at best.

First of all, you want to talk about handouts? AIG is now like Dick Cheney in that the name is a punchline in itself, no set up required. And you might not want to call it a hand out to someone who was a nuclear engineer and may have done more for our economy than a lot of us will ever be able to claim – that is until a degenerative disease started attacking his body through no fault of his own. Maybe he’d be your daughters’ physics professor right now had his life not taken a path that was totally outside his control. There is nothing humanly possible that anyone with Parkinson’s disease could have done to prevent it. Nothing.

The randomness with which disabilites occur is a terrifying idea to many people, which could explain why some try to control as much of their world as possible, sometimes rigidly. With that in mind, let’s address the “I’ll decide when to give you money” thing. We all pay taxes. No, wait – let’s start simpler. We all buy groceries. You go to the store and pick up your cage free, organic, vegetarian fed eggs. Someone else buys some toilet paper and paper towels. Yet another person buys some ground beef chuck for dinner tonight, maybe a nice stew. All of you are giving money to the same store, and the store gives you all that you need even though each of you needs different things. If you are a vegetarian you cannot stop someone from buying meat, even though you yourself are against it and would never buy it. Despite being a paying customer, you cannot stop the store from providing meat to other customers who want meat. Likewise, other customers cannot stop you from buying your brand of eggs, or butter, or milk, or veggieburgers. All customers pay money to the same store, and that store provides different things for different people. The store takes revenue from individual sales and pools it together to buy proportionately more of everything sold. There is a lot of overlap (chips, vegetables, juice, bread, gift cards?) for many people’s grocery lists, and the store puts its resources into those areas more than any other, but it’s the little items that make such a big difference to so many of us. I don’t need to buy pull-ups, but what would happen if my grocery store stopped carrying them? I bet my brand of such-and-such would eventually go away, because there wouldn’t be enough general revenue – pooled together – to provide for the idiosyncratic items that so many of us need. Same. With. Taxes.

You may never buy wheat-free soy sauce. I hope you never have to. However, if your daughter is diagnosed as allergic (not just intolerant) to wheat – watch how fast you start reading every single food label.

Shock aside, attacks like those at the Tea Party rally are dangerous not because anyone can develop – at any time – a physical disability, but because it sanctions the infantilizing of those who do need assistance from those who don’t (yet).

Ability is a funny thing. No one can predict, let alone control, their own needs in the future when it comes to disabilities, whether it’s at the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Not even a rocket scientist. What we can predict is that we will all be on the receiving end eventually – if we’re lucky.


Prop 8 Decision Stirs National Outrage

27 05 2009

Prop 8 Protest 036

So here we are, half way through 2009. We have a newly elected president, a newly elected/reelected congress, and as we speak there is a new Supreme Court Judge frying under our collective political microscope. What’s that you say? What ever happened to that thing last year with gay marriage in California? First they could get married, then there was something during the election about rejecting marriage licenses of gay couples who already got married… what ever happened with that? 

Well, once upon a time there was a referendum. In order to qualify to get onto the ballot in the first place, Proposition 8 needed 694,354 valid petition signatures, equal to 8% of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2006 General Election. The initiative proponents submitted 1,120,801 signatures (160% of what was required). On June 2, 2008 the initiative qualified for the November 4, 2008 election ballot through the random sample signature check (’cause, you  know, nothing can go wrong there).

Please note that the initiative needed 8% of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor. So, for those of you in California who choose not to vote, if you had voted in the 2006 election for Governor then the authors of this initiative would have needed many more signatures. This is partially your fault – you’re making it easy for them.

Anyway,originally they called it the “California Marriage Protection Act”, but some opponents claimed that was a misleading title, so they settled on “Proposition 8”. So, with some paperwork and a $200 submission fee, the initiative was on its way.

Now it’s May 2009 – the election has come and gone, with Obama on top along with Prop 8. Opponents and supporters of Prop 8 have been playing tug of war with every legislative body they’ve been able to wrap their arms around. Lawsuits abound. What would be the fate of those 18,000 gay marriages that have taken place in California already? Finally May 26 rolls around, the day the California Supreme Court announces its ruling on whether or not Proposition 8 is valid. That morning the justices announce that Prop 8 is indeed valid as voted. 

In a written statement, Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director, said, “Today’s ruling from the California Supreme Court missed an opportunity to do what courts are supposed to do and that is to make sure that all people are treated equally under the law.” He noted, however, that dozens of New York gay and lesbian couples who traveled to California to marry last year will continue to have valid marriages that are recognized by New York State, as are all legal out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.

Rallies and celebrations across the U.S. that were planned in anticipation of an overturning of Prop 8 instead turn into outraged protests. In San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Providence and other cities, thousands of gay marriage supporters poured onto the streets, homemade signs in hand.

Another protest organizer, Ashley Simmons, said, “We chose to have a nonviolent civil disobedience because civil rights struggles come from the bottom up.” Fowler added. “There is a place for legislative action, but it’s more than appropriate to use civil disobedience to stand up for our rights when the system fails us.”

Some gay marriage supporters look at this decision as a good thing, saying that gay marriage “will stand on sounder footing when it is popularly enacted rather than judicially imposed”. Perhaps. Thankfully the protests and anti-Prop 8 rallies yesterday were generally peaceful demonstrations. If gay marriage supporters get desperate enough, if the elected officials that they helped get into office turn a deaf ear to their plight, that may not always be the case. 

The Fifth Estate?

15 04 2009

“What the hell is this Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950, 31 USC 714(b) stuff? I can’t find it anywhere!”

The news media has carried the reputation of the 4th Estate of the U.S. democratic process (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Estates being Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Office of the President – seriously, you should know that.) The idea is that news media kinda keeps the other three honest by reporting on what’s going on – so “they” don’t slip anything past “us” while “we’re” hard at work as doctors, nurses, electricians, sanitation workers, maids, librarians, plumbers, teachers, or “Senior Associates” at XYZ company.

With all the hoopla surrounding the Federal Reserve, Government Accounting Office, and T.A.R.P. (Toxic Asset Relief Program) which resulted from the crash of last October, a lot more light has been shed on how powerful the Federal Reserve is. Specifically, they really aren’t part of the balance of powers that hold accountable the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Estates to one another – nor are they truth-seekers for publications like (insert favorite newspaper or news television show here). In particular, the Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950 has been cited recently as a major part of why the Federal Reserve is so special. Unfortunately, THOMAS (the public online component of the Library of Congress) only goes back to 1982… so where are we supposed to find the AAA of 1950 that everyone’s talking about???

Well, here it is, straight from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Reps (which is why it looks like crap…):

    31 USC Sec. 714                                            
    Sec. 714. Audit of Financial Institutions Examination Council, Federal Reserve Board, Federal reserve banks, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of Comptroller of the Currency
      (a) In this section, “agency” means the Financial Institutions
    Examination Council, the Federal Reserve Board, Federal reserve banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision.
      (b) Under regulations of the Comptroller General, the Comptroller General shall audit an agency, but may carry out an onsite examination of an open insured bank or bank holding company only if the appropriate agency has consented in writing. Audits of the Federal Reserve Board and Federal reserve banks may not include – 
        (1) transactions for or with a foreign central bank, government of a foreign country, or nonprivate international financing organization;
        (2) deliberations, decisions, or actions on monetary policy matters, including discount window operations, reserves of member banks, securities credit, interest on deposits, and open market operations;
        (3) transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee; or
        (4) a part of a discussion or communication among or between members of the Board of Governors and officers and employees of the Federal Reserve System related to clauses (1)-(3) of this subsection.
      (c)(1) Except as provided in this subsection, an officer or employee of the Government Accountability Office may not disclose information identifying an open bank, an open bank holding company, or a customer of an open or closed bank or bank holding company. The Comptroller General may disclose information related to the affairs of a closed bank or closed bank holding company identifying a customer of the closed bank or closed bank holding company only if the Comptroller General believes the customer had a controlling influence in the management of the closed bank or closed bank holding company or was related to or affiliated with a person or group having a controlling influence.
      (2) An officer or employee of the Office may discuss a customer, bank, or bank holding company with an official of an agency and may report an apparent criminal violation to an appropriate law enforcement authority of the United States Government or a State.
      (3) This subsection does not authorize an officer or employee of an agency to withhold information from a committee of Congress authorized to have the information.
     (d)(1) To carry out this section, all records and property of or used by an agency, including samples of reports of examinations of a bank or bank holding company the Comptroller General considers statistically meaningful and workpapers and correspondence related to the reports shall be made available to the Comptroller General. The Comptroller General shall give an agency a current list of officers and employees to whom, with proper identification, records and property may be made available, and who may make notes or copies necessary to carry out an audit.
      (2) The Comptroller General shall prevent unauthorized  access to records or property of or used by an agency that the Comptroller General obtains during an audit.

So, basically, “fuck off, I do what I want.” Sounds like Cartman legislation. “RESPECT my AuthORitEYE”…

What’s interesting is that section (c)(3) states that the Fed is NOT authorized to withold informaiton from any committee of Congress that is “authorized to have the information.” Not that they have to volunteer to help, just that they can’t withhold information, if asked by the right people.

That has to include the T.A.R.P. Oversight Committee I think, since it is stipulated within the T.A.R.P. document that every 60 days it has to check in with Congress and let them know how they’re doing.

So…what does any of this mean? Well, for starters, it means that the United States is going through a big financial shift. I know, “Shock! I had no idea!”,  but bear with me:

Financial “trouble” is what people with large financial losses are going through. The average Jane is going through something different. And that could be a good thing.

What this means, among other things, is that there is essentially less money to go around right now: less money to create jobs, less money to continue funding already existing jobs, and less money to spend on little things like a new TV or more clothes or weekend trips up the coast. What possible silver lining could there possibly be within this clusterfuck of a situation?

The answer: Boycotting will work better ever before.

Stay with me: boycotting products (for whatever reason you have) largely depends on the size of the impact grabbing the company’s attention. This is complicated by the fact that so many large companies that sell products in the U.S. (not necessarily U.S. owned/run/operated) retain WAY more customers than they lose week to week. But what this recession is forcing everyday people to do is re-prioritize their spending habits, which includes buying less of some of their favorite products, if at all.

In a financial climate where reliably long-term, repeat customers want to buy something but simply can’t, protesters of that product are uniquely positioned to strike at the company’s biggest weakness: their revenue. The recession will necessarily undergo a survival-of-the-fittest period during which giant companies like Coke and McDonald’s would “feel” ANY boycotting more than it has in decades. And that doesn’t mean you have to go without soda – just don’t buy THEIR soda. Giving to a competitor is even worse than not buying anything at all, because while the first company will suffer a loss of revenue, the competing company will gain revenue and thus tip the scales even more.

If you ever wanted to boycott a product for any reason, now is the time to do it. Every penny counts all the time, but right now every penny feels like a dollar to these companies. That is the power that a financial shift gives to those people with hardly a penny to spare.

If You Are a Protester, You Are a Terrorist

10 10 2008

William Ayers has been in the news a lot recently, and if you don’t know who he is by now then you haven’t been listening to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. In that case, read a little more about the radical 60’s activist here.

The Bush administration has become famous for its divisiveness, unlawfulness, and lack of transparency. It should come as no surprise that this week the Washington Post covered a news story about non-violent Maryland activists and protesters (a.k.a. opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war) who have been put on a terrorist watch list.

“Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war, was far more extensive than was known when its existence was disclosed in July.”

“The surveillance took place over 14 months in 2005 and 2006, under the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). The former state police superintendent who authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins, defended the program in testimony yesterday. Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists ‘fringe people.’ “

“Stunned senators pressed Sheridan to apologize to the activists for the spying, assailed in an independent review last week as ‘overreaching’ by law enforcement officials who were oblivious to their violation of the activists’ rights of free expression and association. The letter, obtained by The Washington Post, does not apologize but admits that the state police have ‘no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime’ by those classified as terrorists.”

The series of articles is best read in this order:

Maryland State Police Put Activists’ Names On Terror Lists

Activists Mislisted as Terrorists Are Blocked From Keeping Copies of Intelligence Files

Spying Gone Awry: A covert surveillance operation in Maryland tramples on civil liberties.

The real surprise is that some people are surprised by this. Isn’t this par for the Bush administration course? Really – how big of a jump is it to go from suspending habeus corpus to listing “protesters” as terrorists?

Sure, sure, President Bush didn’t personally do this – it was the Maryland State Police. Well, here comes a politically charged comparison: Hitler didn’t personally kill millions of Jews, but he did instruct others, to instruct others, to instruct others to do it. It’s called leadership – and it has a direct hand in local government by both actively supporting some initiatives and by neglecting to disallow other initiatives.

Palin Protest Power, part 2

15 09 2008

Part of what I like about this election year is that the issues we face as a country and the candidates we’ve chosen to lead us are generating a lot of enthusiasm. As someone who grew up during a time when grunge was all the rage we could muster for a world resembling a heart shaped box, the outpouring of political support I’ve witnessed this year is not just remarkable, it’s revolutionary. Anyone paying attention over the last eighteen months expected that so much enthusiasm would create a tumultous political environment. What we did not expect was the huge democratic swell of support, not just for the national election but for local events as well. Opportunities to voice our concerns are important because they allow for a constructive, lawful way to speak truth to power. It’s the difference between a rally and a riot. This weekend’s rally in Anchorage, Alaska was the latest installment in a series of concientious individuals hellbent on being heard about how they want their country to be led for the next four years.

“When I got there, about 20 minutes early, the line of sign wavers stretched the full length of the library grounds, along the edge of the road, 6 or 7 people deep!”

All this isn’t just about Sarah Palin, conservative pitbull. Reports that Palin was involved in attempted book-banning while a councilwoman, prior to being mayor of Wasilla, has created quite a stir in the library community. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to do it’s piss off the librarians. Add to this that book-banning is just about the most grievous offense possible in the mind of a librarian, and McCain has a bit of a problem. He picked a runningmate who has pissed of librarians across the country, but especially in his vice president’s home state. These are people who are skilled in the arts of research, fact finding, organizing, and sharing information. These are people who work for lower wages at local libraries because they are so passionate about maintaining a path for an educated public. These are people who have endured budget cuts and reduced staffing for years under the failed policies of the Bush adminstration. These are people who, as a group, overwhelmingly vote for Democrats – and now you’ve pissed them off.

It doesn’t matter that Sarah Palin didn’t successfully ban the book, My Daddy’s Roommate, from local library shelves. It doesn’t matter how many books she tried to ban. It doesn’t matter whether or not there was an anti-gay theme for the books she tried to ban. It doesn’t doesn’t matter how direct Sarah Palin was about whether or not to ban any books. The future vice president, and likely the future president soon after, should not be anywhere near a book-banning scandal. Especially not someone who was a Journalism major with a Policial Science minor. It’s just not one of those issues that leaves much to the imagination – there’s no “other side” to banning books. Librarians use judgement and discretion when purchasing and cataloging items for their library. You will not find The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex in the Children’s Room or Young Adult section at your local library. However, you may find it in the non-fiction section. It probably is just a few aisles down from The Vindication of the Rights of Woman and The Bible.

Palin Power Protest, part 1

15 09 2008

Merrill Lynch Rally grrrls at Anchorage

Rally grrrls at Anchorage

There are so few times in life when a feeling of helplessness transforms into focused power, especially for a national cause. Too often people are left throwing their hands up in the air and shaking their heads in frustration, not sure who to call or contact to voice their concerns.

Voting is an important right, but the drawback is that most choices in politics are not voted into existance by the general public. Writing letters and making phonecalls are constructive but it is debatable whether or not they are productive. Who do we call? Who do we write to? I know I wasn’t one of the people who called up the FCC or CBS to complain about Janet Jackson’s superbowl halftime wardrobe malfunction. Hell, if I knew then what the consequences would be for the ridiculous exercise in anti-woman censorship that followed, and has led to so much radio and TV censorship since, then I would have called up in support of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

But that’s just it – who to call? Most people don’t have the phone number or email address of people who can actually have an effect on our world in that way. Having a voice is almost useless if you’re talking to yourself.

Which is why I was so pleased to read about the ‘Alaska Women Reject Palin’ rally this weekend:

Around 1500 people gathered to protest against Sarah Palin. 1500 people showing up to a rally in Alaska is the equivalent of 18,000 people in New Jersey. So, imagine filling the entire PNC Bank Arts Center (including lawn seats) to full capacity in protest of a single politician and you’d have the equivalent of the protest on the lawn of the Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska this weekend.

I first saw the article on Huffington Post. This is one of my favorite parts, because it’s just too deliciously bitter and Limbaugh-like:

“One of those media outlets was KBYR radio, home of Eddie Burke, a long-time uber-conservative Anchorage talk show host. “Turns out that Eddie Burke not only announced the rally, but called the people who planned to attend the rally ‘a bunch of socialist baby-killing maggots,’ and read the home phone numbers of the organizers aloud over the air, urging listeners to call and tell them what they thought. The women, of course, received many nasty, harassing and threatening messages.”

Eddie Burke with brilliant(?) sign

Eddie Burke with brilliant(?) sign

“Socialist, baby-killing maggots.” Wow, that’s great. The thing is, maggots are necrotic – they only feed on things that are dead. So, “baby-killing maggot” is a bit of a contradiction, and an ironic one at that.

As for maggots being socialists: they don’t have division of labor, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems like ants do – in that way they are arguably more capitalistic in nature. “Capitalist, Enron-feeding maggots“, now that would be an insult.

CNN’s Cafferty Paints PUMAs With Broad Brush

26 08 2008
DNC protesters outside the RBC meeting in May, 2008

DNC protesters outside the RBC meeting in May, 2008

The description of PUMA isn’t entirely accurate – PUMA grew out of the response to the DNC RBC meeting in May 2008. Their main point is boycotting Obama, not necessarily out of pure loyalty to Hillary or because they are closet republicans, but because of the mess with Florida and Michigan’s reduced delegates.

Because the decision to hold early primaries in those two states as well as the decision to punish those two states in that way (reducing delegates to half status, thereby effecitively eliminating half the voters in each state) was 100% out of the voters hands, a lot of them joined together to form PUMA.

They do not endorse any candidate, though most people were Hillary voters (and of course they would be – if you were a McCain voter then you weren’t affected by the RBC ruling, and if you were an Obama supporter then it worked in your favor).

I think other Hillary supporters, who don’t give a rat’s ass about Michigan or Florida, also joined because, well, they felt betrayed and needed an outlet. Kinda like Gore supporters in 2000, only this time (sadly and ironically) the role of Bush is being played by Obama.