Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Another old screed that I'd forgotten I'd written until a friend put it into his email Signature rotation (minor changes made for updating):

First it was Collin. Then John McCain lets us down. Rudy. One by one the ones who have shown us that greatness lies within them, succumb to the siren song of power.

Maybe the definition of a politician is a person who, at some later point in their life, discover that why, yes, they can use those heroic younger selves to gain more power for themselves today. That courage and integrity that saw them through those awful tests then, well, they're not really that useful today. They're now just coinage.

Whereas to an ordinary person who opts not to so use their own earlier days of triumph over adversity, who instead just live their lives peacefully and honorably, those days were all that justifies the rest of the time we take up space on the planet.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I just came across this old screed that I wrote on...November 23, 2002. Unfortunately, it's still topical.
We don’t need no steenking Homeland Security Department.

There, someone finally said it.

They could assign one or two key people from each of the agencies to serve on a coordinating governing board, to implement the meshing of computer and intelligence systems. It would save us taxpayers millions, maybe billions, of dollars. Just think of the letterhead printing changes alone! Give that governing body a clear agenda, a realistic timeline, and the power to carry it out. Give the agency heads the message that these people get cooperation at every level, or high-level heads will be rolling down the hallowed halls. Give them money to do the job, and a reasonable framework of rules to operate under. Then turn them loose with it.

Have *any* of our “leaders” *ever* worked INSIDE a government agency? I don’t think they could have, because I don’t hear or see any evidence that Bush or Ridge or any of them have any clue that what they’re demanding is ludicrous. Expensive, and frightening on several counts. But first, ludicrous because right now is NOT the time we need a gigantic percentage of our intelligence and law enforcement people coping with restructuring and moving furniture and people around.

Has it occurred to *anyone* that these people *already* have full workloads? And Bush thinks this Frankenstein monster is going to be up and running when? In a month? A year? Five years? Fine–we’ll tell Al Quaeda to come back later, when we’re presentable.

I can’t wait to see the organizational chart (the unrevealed Lines of Power chart would be too scary for a lay person, I’m quite sure). If they ever publish it, you should study it carefully. I know I will. Because if for any reason I ever get caught up in its coils, it’s liable to be an excruciatingly Byzantine trip back out to freedom. And that’s assuming that your capture was a benign mistake.

With Ashcroft looking more and more like Goering, there’s not much hope that everyone one who *is* masticated by the Homeland Security Department is guilty of something. At least, having to do with security. Perhaps guilty of criticizing Ashcroft on TV, or writing an anti-Iraq-war screed to the local paper’s Letters to the Editor. Or participating in a public rally to support Arab-Americans. Or having the misfortune to brush against a “Persian-looking” man on your way through the airport...or buying girlie magazines from your neighborhood’s Korean-American convenience store. I can, as you can see, imagine about a million ways that Bush’s minions might cast their suspicious eyes upon any given innocent citizen. Who can predict which one they’ll label “enemy combatants” – which means, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye, because you don’t get a lawyer, you don’t get to know what you’re charged with, you don’t get to see or talk to or correspond with your family, and you don’t have any way of knowing when you’re getting the hell out of their prison, and you have no rights and no recourse whatsoever.

Read that last sentence over carefully: "you have no rights and no recourse whatsoever."

Does that sound like America to you?

Some Democrats fought the Homeland Security Act’s measures that would strip all those government employees’ workers’ rights. While many citizens think any punishment for a guvvmint employee is too light, there is an aspect to this that bodes even greater evil for the people’s interests than whether a guvvmint employee gets to sue his supervisor for interrupting his coffee break (which seems to be what most citizens think is about the level of seriousness of guvmint employees’ complaints).

Any agency of public servants has its unwritten laws: mores of the culture of that particular agency. There may be an unwritten rule, for example, that no one gets overtime paid as *time*, no matter what the collective bargaining agreements might say about having to offer the employee a choice. Ask for your O-T in hours once, and you’ll get them. But you’ll never be granted O-T again (and most agencies now require employes to put in for O-T permission in advance).

There will be dozens of those kinds of rules thrown into chaos with the smashing together of all those existing federal agencies–that’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. But other unwritten rules may concern how privacy issues are handled for informants; how much latitude a staffer has to stretch the Chief Executive’s policies in the name of common sense and compassion. Or how to balance one’s knowlege of the deep-down bedrock patriotism of a co-worker who, in a caffeine rush, utters a disparagement of W Bush with other co-workers as witnesses. You may know the person is joking (albeit unwisely), but you also know that the other witnesses will be reporting the comments to *their* superiors.

Oh heck, go read Solzhenitsyn and LeCarre to see what the ramifications of government workers without rights can result in, and what happens to the general citizenry and truth and justice. This worries me more than the “well-being” of those employees now facing such a life–and I *am* concerned with their well-being. After all, they’re Americans, too. And if one of them learns of clandestine but profound violations of the Constitution by their agency or the White House? What does she do then, with no right to complain if her job is suddenly terminated, or she’s shifted over to the basement paper clip-counting gulag? Or, and I hope this isn’t likely, if her life or family is threatened if she blows the whistle?

Excuse me, but I don’t think this is how democracy works, I don’t give a DAMN about Al Quaeda. If we end up with the same nightmare that Bin Ladn or Saddam would impose upon us, given half a chance, imposed instead by our own “leaders,” how have we gained? I believe we’re in as much danger from those now running the show around the White House as we are from Saddam Hussein. Their methods won’t be mushroom clouds or insidious microbes. They’ll use stepwise dismantling of our Bill of Rights, methodical replacement of centrist judges with those more amenable to the far-right plans, and relentlessly equating dissent with anti-Americanism. And they’ll count on our love of ease and cheapness of gasoline to keep us quiet while the transformation takes place.

One more peeve: Who the hell thought up the title, Homeland Security? It sounds more like some mindless Maoist or Ruskie slogan than anything I ever heard of here. It sounds like “The Fatherland.” Are we going to be required to call W “Father” someday soon?

I'm sickened to realize that the situation has only gotten worse over the past two and one-half years, not better.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I did something cowardly yesterday. I am full of rationalizations but it was still cowardly and against everything I say I stand for.

I spoke about wetlands before about 60 6th graders yesterday afternoon. After I gave my basic Wetlands Intro talk, we had Q & A. They were asking good questions, several wanting to know what different kinds of wetlands there are and what each kind is "good for." I myself opened up the subject of vernal pools and started to talk about how one of their chief benefits in nature is protecting tiny populations of small amphibians and invertebrates from larger predators - and I started to say "provide habitat for isolated populations that through thousands of generations will evolve into even more different species" - when the words stuck in my throat. I wonder if I looked panicky for a second. I remember my gaze zooming around the room, taking in the childrens' faces, the teacher's and the principal's and the other guest speaker's - "What if one of the kids objects to the mention of evolution?" raced through my mind. "No-win: argue with a 6th grader? Parents! Irate principal? Professional reprimand?" All in an instant,- and I choked. I went on to another topic.

I have a bagful of rationalizations: I was only there for 1/2 hour, why introduce controversy and a complex subject way over the kids' heads? It's not my job to teach evolution, I was there to talk about wetlands (yeah, that sounds lame even to me). What right do I have to stir up trouble and leave the school staff to deal with it? (another lame one)

This forces me to re-evaluate my self-image as well as what my role is when I go to these guest shots. It is also a wake-up call; now I realize what kind of temptation towards self-censorship teachers must experience on a daily basis. I'm sure the support level of the principal is absolutely critical on a school-by-school basis, and of course that's determined largely by how much support the principal gets from the school board. And the population from which school boards are drawn seems to be racing for the Dark Ages as fast as it can go.

My own cowardice shakes me deeply. We're in worse trouble than I thought. What can I do? I can think hard about what I did yesterday and make concrete plans to prevent it from happening again. I can post it on my blog for all the world to see, to ventilate the struggle.