Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jump (For My Love)

When I first heard about the failed terror attack upon an international flight from Amsterdam, my first thought wasn't political, "Hell, Bush, couldn't y'all put together a better airline security system?," nor did I panic, forswearing never again to fly. My first thought wasn't: "I want to see the president on television. I want to see him now. I want him to reassure me, and the flying public, that we're going to be secure if we take a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit." That just wasn't my first thought.

My first thought was: "How did this guy manage to get pass security with explosives?" The thought really took flight when I learned that Amsterdam has one of the most probing airline security systems in the world. And then I learned that the terrorist was treated as an "inflight passenger," and was screened with the assumption that he had been searched previously, and didn't warrant a thorough, more exhaustive, one.

Couple that with the reality that airlines are profit-driven, and more cost conscious than security and safety would dictate, this was a sure prescription for a disaster waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, there will be other events. Terrorists are intent on striking us again, possibly with a mortal blow. When they do, Obama can't jump each time the Republicans, by way of their criticism of him, egg him on to do so. He has to use his own judgment. If talking to the American people immediately seems warranted, then speak, otherwise hold your peace. It took Bush six days to speak out about Richard Reid, who was tried, and convicted, in our criminal court system, just as the "underwear bomber" will be, despite calls to try him before a military tribunal. Peter King shouldn't be allowed to set your agenda, nor any other Republican. Republicans get as much mileage from making you jump on cue, as they do from their criticism.

The real story is not that a terrorist attempted to attack us, but that he got as far as he did, using a low-tech method--explosives in his underwear, for crying out loud. First, it was Richard Reid, stashing explosives in his shoes, and you know where that led: The flying public having to remove their shoes to fly. Now with the underwear guy, will that call for the removal of our pants, and a close examination of what might be sewn in the lining of underwear?

Perhaps all airlines should convert to flying nudists only, or those willing to convert to nudism for the extent of a flight. If people don't have clothes on, they can't tuck something away. Well, they could, but it would be harder.

I'm being facetious, of course. One solution would be full-body scans, and I understand only 19 scanners, or so, are now installed, with about 150 more being planned. Now I don't know about you, but I'd rather give up the privacy of having someone peer at my gorgeous body, than run their hands around my private parts.

If we're going to give up some privacy to fly, let's make sure that the sacrifice really works. It has to be extraordinarily hard to get around those full-body scanners, if they're working. I can't see how anyone could hide anything from those scanners, and still be able to walk, let alone talk, and interact with security personnel.

And for goodness sakes, let's start paying security personnel more than minimum wage. It will attract people who might take their job seriously, won't hold a grudge against their employer for working for pennies, and will actually do the job--and won't daydream about what they're going to do after work, but actually focus on the job at hand.

Compared to nonessential jobs, the most important jobs in this country are those that command the lowest pay--our teachers, police officers, and firemen.

If you have the likes of Pat Buchanan saying that its unfortunate that this incident was politicize, then you know somebody went well over the line.

Interestingly, this terrorist incident is not without controversy. Was there an accomplice? We have a well-dressed man intervening for Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab at the Amsterdam airport, and the FBI supposedly arresting someone in addition to Umar, and later denying it.

I don't want to minimize the gravity of the event, because it posed a real threat to the flying public, and to those on the ground, had this plane gone down. No doubt, this event shouldn't have happened. Dots should have been connected.

Yet, I'd like to make this point: Democrats, and the president in particular, can't jump each time Republican critics attempt to use an event to make them look soft on terrorism, dovish on war, and weak on national security. Jumping is not going to make Republicans love you more, nor diminish their attacks. Republicans have a plan: to take back the seats of power by any means necessary. And the method they're using now is to make Democrats and the president look foolish, and ineffective.

It's their aim to convince us that only they can lead us during times of national economic upheavals, and an ongoing war on terror. What they want us to forget is that they had almost eight years to rescue the economy, and to makes gains against terrorism.

Instead, they abandoned the real front on terrorism, Afghanistan, to fight Iraqis, and gave tax breaks to those who didn't need them, the rich. Talk about misplaced priorities!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Grinch Before Christmas

As Christmas draws near, I really wanted to offer a more positive message than the one I'm about to present. Nevertheless, consider this my Christmas offering. Perhaps you've heard about the story below: A woman dies because two EMTs were on break, and didn't wish to be bothered. Or so it seems. Here are more details:

A pregnant Brooklyn woman suffering a fatal seizure in a coffee shop in the shadow of FDNY Headquarters was ignored by two callous city medics who continued to buy their breakfast, eyewitnesses told The Post.

"The EMTs just said we had to call 911. They got their bagels and left," said a disgusted worker.

Frantic employees at the Au Bon Pain at 1 Metrotech Center approached the FDNY medics at 9 a.m. on Dec. 9, shortly after colleague Eutisha Revee Rennix, 25, began to complain of shortness of breath and intense stomach pains. Workers immediately dialed 911.

NO HELP: Witnesses say that as Eutisha Revee Rennix (above) lay dying at a Brooklyn Au Bon Pain 600 feet from FDNY headquarters, two EMTs on break refused to assist her, leaving son Jahleel, 3, motherless.
"People were calling out saying, 'She's turning blue! She's pregnant!' " said the witness.

But the EMTs appeared unfazed.

"I remember them saying they couldn't do anything because they were on their break," another worker said. "We started screaming and cursing at them."
Read more.

We've seen callous people before, individuals refusing to aid others in dire straits because of indifference, but those people haven't been EMTs. We don't expect to see this kind of behavior from medics trained to save lives, and whose lives are devoted to doing just that.

We expect this callousness more from our politicians. You know the ones I'm talking about: Republicans and Blue Dog democrats out to defeat, or substantially modify, a bill designed to save the lives of 30 to 40 millions Americans each year by reforming Health Care in this country. Next to these politicians, the EMTs personify the milk of human kindness, and are elevated to sainthood.

One Democrat, Ben Nelson, didn't sign on to the bill until his state could realize a sizable benefit to the tune of about a hundred million dollars, striking a Medicaid deal for his state. Holding health care reform hostage by seeking special favor for your state is not only callous, but pits one group of Americans against others who feel left out when one state enjoys an advantage that others don't.

Further, allowing other Americans to be forced into bankruptcy who do have health insurance, but have been dropped because of a catastrophic illness, or a pre-existing condition, is equally callous. But that doesn't seem to bother Republicans. The whole lot of them should have packed their bags and moved back to their states and their districts when Barack Obama moved himself and his family into the White House. The amount of real work they've accomplished as senators and district representative is not enough to warrant a paycheck.

During the month of December, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We set aside December 25 as his birthday, although the actual date of his birth is lost to history. During his life, Jesus championed the poor, the defenseless, and the sick. Were we more spiritual than worldly, we'd have no need of Universal Health Care, or a Public Health Care Plan to keep health care costs under control. Further, had the EMTs practiced the Golden Rule that Jesus touted, the mother of the 3-year-old boy may be alive today, and the boy not orphaned.

Jesus charged his disciples thusly: "That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

Republicans and some Democrats are fond of calling us a Christian nation, although there's a constitutional provision calling for the separation of church and state. What an ensample of Christian charity we are as a nation that we show our love, and our Christian discipleship by ignoring the health plight of millions of our fellow citizens. Some conservatives will argue that it's not the role of government to provide health care for its citizenry, but should be the role of charities. And when charities fail, are we not charitably required to use the people's power to address an insufficiency? Is it more charitable to rest on principle, and a conservative ideology, when the needs of many may be addressed effectively by throwing the weight of government behind them?

When should our political ideology replace our conscience, our duty to God, and to our fellowman and woman?

We saw the birth of love upon this plane, although it came forth out of a lowly place, a stable, and was wrapped in swaddling cloth, and placed in a manger. That love, unnurtured, may remain indefinitely in that natal state, or we can, if we choose, remove the swaddling cloth, set it free to grow, and allow it to be elevated to that of King over ourselves and our world. The choice is ours.

Merry Christmas, One and All.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stranger Danger

The words, Stranger Danger, have, in our "developed economies," signalled a new warning. And that warning doesn't refer to the danger facing children at the hands of unscrupulous adults. The danger, as it is currently perceived, may be summed up in the following question: How much should developed nations allow entry to those who don't share their values, in order to offset a shrinking population, and a shrinking workforce?

To be sure, diversity has its problems, and aggravates other social problems, problems associated with sexism, racism, and homophobia. For the record: I never presume to tell anyone how to handle a perceived slight, or respond to a perceived attack against their race (racism), their sex (sexism), or their sexual preference (homophobia).

It's just not my place. I'm not going to call these persons overly-sensitive, conspiratorial, or just plain stupid, as some bloggers have. Here's the reason: racism, sexism, and homophobia (among other "isms" and "phobias") crisscross our national psyche, and social interactions like our nation's power grid, and, unlike our nation's power grid, they're in better condition, all to our national shame.

Were we living in a society where these "isms" were rare, and homosexuality received no more attention than that given to straights, then I could understand the continual bleating against those who would call out devils where none exists.

Recently, an article in the Guardian caught my attention. I know, this is not an American newspapers, but the article, although not specifically about the United States, could very well have had us in mind when it was written. Here, in a nutshell is the article's premise:

"The diversity, individualism and mobility that characterise developed economies - especially in the era of globalisation - mean that more of our lives is spent among strangers. [...] We share public services and parts of our income in the welfare state, we share public spaces in towns and cities where we are squashed together on buses, trains and tubes, and we share in a democratic conversation - filtered by the media - about the collective choices we wish to make. All such acts of sharing are more smoothly and generously negotiated if we can take for granted a limited set of common values and assumptions. But as Britain becomes more diverse that common culture is being eroded.

"And therein lies one of the central dilemmas of political life in developed societies: sharing and solidarity can conflict with diversity. This is an especially acute dilemma for progressives who want plenty of both solidarity (high social cohesion and generous welfare paid out of a progressive tax system) and diversity (equal respect for a wide range of peoples, values and ways of life). The tension between the two values is a reminder that serious politics is about trade-offs. It also suggests that the left's recent love affair with diversity may come at the expense of the values and even the people that it once championed."

As I read this, and the article in general, I was struck by the author's belief that, although people are unwilling to share with strangers, they aren't unwilling, so much, when they share common values, and a sense of "solidarity" with the other. And if they're strangers, this likelihood of shared values, and solidarity, becomes even more remote.

We're seeing some of this reluctance with the congressional health-care reform bill that seeks to install a public option. Much of the ballyhoo has been over the possibility that illegal immigrants may also qualify to participate in the system that the legislature is cobbling together.

The resistance to such a proposal came to a head in the words of Joe Wilson, "You lie," when the president assured listeners, during a recent address to the American people, and a joint session of Congress, that the health-care legislation under consideration wouldn't provide free health-care coverage for illegal immigrants.

Who, then, should be recognized as members of our family, those who were born in this country, those who are of our race, or gender, or those of us who share a common plight?

I believe that we're a stronger country because of our diversity. Diversity, and heterogeneity may bring with them certain problems, but it's unlikely that it will present us with this one:

"Finland is Europe's most homogeneous society, a nation of mostly blond ethnic Finns whose declining birthrate creates the classic 21st-century European dilemma: a fast-growing population of senior citizens whose promised benefits under a generous welfare state will soon be unaffordable. To compensate for fewer Finnish births, the country could encourage foreigners to immigrate, a subject much discussed here. But like most of Europe, "Finland is allergic to immigration," in the words of Manuel Castells, the renowned Spanish-born sociologist who lives in the United States."

As our nation becomes more diverse, perceptions of slights, and attacks are bound to rise. Rather than sweep these accusations under the rug, ridicule them, or even discount them, we'd be better off to meet them head-on with discussion, dialog, and a determination to create an environment that welcomes all, and a resolve to treat the stranger as members of the family, and not outsiders.

Otherwise, we could end up like Finland.