Saturday, January 23, 2010

The People Are Revolting

I thought I felt the earth move last week, but it was only Teddy Kennedy rolling over in his grave. I wouldn't know Martha Coakley from Martha White of the Self Rising Flower, but how bad must a candidate be to go from being 20 points ahead a month before the election, and still lose by five? You would have thought they had found naked pictures of her posing for some cheesy magazine or something. I mean, look what happened to Vanessa Williams. I heard Coakley was "detached" from Massachusetts voters, so in their wisdom, they turned to Tea Party favorite, Scottie "The Body" Brown, to occupy a senate seat the Democrats had held since 1952. My Yankee cousins are going to have to explain to me how another haircut came to represent the people of the Commonwealth since this overnight transformation of Scott Brown from complete obscurity into Republican superstar makes no sense to me.

It should be no surprise that the party that elected George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to public office would look for another face out of Central Casting to put a handsome smile on obstructionism. The GOP always thinks that a pretty boy (or in the case of Palin; girl) is going to attract the young voters. Witness Mitt Romney, or Dan Quayle, or any of the frozen-haired fellows like Vitter and Ensign, currently embroiled in sex scandals while still remaining in office. Even Karl Rove's infatuation with George W. Bush falls into the category of first finding the head and then filling it with facts, as he similarly did with his latest creation; Texas Governor Rick Perry. So, good for the Massachusetts voters for finding another stud-hoss to send to Washington. It used to be said that "Politics is show business for ugly people." Now, it's just plain, old, show biz.

I know Ted Williams' head is somewhere up there in Boston, (except for that chip off the old block), in a cryogenics lab, and it was there that the original Tea Party took place, all hoping that one day, in some unforeseeable society, they might find the cure for death and taxes. So the only thing for certain anymore in this life is change. I understand that change produces anxiety, which in turn provokes strong responses, but attempting to resist inevitable societal change is as fruitless as trying to hold back the turning of the seasons. Sending one more "no man" to Congress will not affect any solutions, but putting him in Ted Kennedy's seat was most definitely a shot across the bow, both for the undisciplined and unprincipled Democrats, who continue to knit one, pearl one, on health care reform, and the president as well. There are some pissed-off people out there, but the wake-up call should be for progressives to realize that this is a philosophical war, and their opposite numbers are highly motivated. It will take equal motivation to protect the hard-earned gains already won and prevent a slippage back into Bushism.

The anger directed toward Obama after one year in office is baffling to me. The conservatives scream, "Slow down, you're doing too much." And the liberals cry, "You haven't done enough. Your campaign promises weren't accomplished in the projected time frame." I understood, and wrote, that Obama would spend a full half-term extricating us from the Bush-era political quicksand, but if electing more far-right, cultural conservatives (except for that centerfold business), is supposed to punish the president for arrogance or aloofness, or whatever you wish to call it, it's a losing strategy. Obama tackled health care reform first because it was the most difficult issue and required the most political capital. It has dragged on much too long with far too much drama, partly Obama's fault, and as a result, he has spent a good deal of that capital. People are frustrated that only now is attention being focused on job programs and they are angry at the perception that the White House is coddling Wall Street.

In the propaganda wars, the Obama administration is losing to the point where perception has overtaken reality. The Republican "NO" Chorus, assisted and abetted by Fox News, has successfully painted the president as culturally removed from mainstream America, if not outright attempting to subvert the capitalist system. They claim Obama has no accomplishments, despite their protestations that he's "trying to do too much." In reality, Obama has pulled this country back from the brink of Depression, and the government's deficit spending was necessary to save entire industries. Criticism was heaped upon him for the takeover of General Motors and the firing of the Chief Executive, but after six months, look what has happened. GM has retooled, begun manufacturing the vehicles that Americans want, and paid back the TARP money loaned by the government. We are finally at the dawning of the mass produced electric car. Do you think the auto industry would have made the shift on their own without governmental assistance and insistence on stricter CAFE standards?

Obama has in actuality been warring with corporate America, and the corporatocracy is fighting back with foot soldiers from the disgruntled Tea Party protesters, who don't even realize they're being used. In his first full year, the president has announced the prospective closing of offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands; forced restrictions on credit card rate increases; provided mortgage assistance to millions of people; re-regulated the banks so they can't gamble with your money; introduced new infrastructure repair and high-speed rail programs; moved a shitload of new cars; and is on the verge of passing health care reform so people like me don't have to be afraid to go to the doctor because of the potential expenses that the insured need not fear. I'm a realist. We survived eight years of the most dangerously radical era in American politics. If it takes another year to correct our course, that is how wide was our detour. The election of one more beefcake, cretin Republican to the Senate does not deter my confidence in the president, only in the people of Massachusetts. There are still three years remaining in Obama's first term, and in the words of the old gospel song by Reverend James Cleveland: "Please be patient with me. God is not through with me yet."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cheech & Chong & Cohen

You have to admire the political moxie of Rep. Steve Cohen for being the only Congressperson to address the Marijuana Policy Projects' 15th annual gala last week. It's not as if the congressman's district is clamoring for the reformation of pot laws, but Cohen has, ever since his days as a state senator where he proposed legislation to enable Tennessee's doctors to prescribe the use of medical marijuana for their patients. Cohen told the Memphis Flyer in 2005, "The laws are crazy to restrict an individual from something that can make them feel better when they're dying. There are so many other legal drugs out there that are much more habit-forming, addictive, and potent." Immediately, Cohen's detractors accused him of being a pot-head, but judging from his previous statement about marijuana's potency, he hasn't smoked any in a while. I was at first delighted and then confused over Cohen's appearance, along with "Trailblazer" honorees, Cheech & Chong, at the marijuana advocacy group's confab. I'm not used to my representatives acting on principle. First, this guy establishes a lottery that enriches the public school system, then he passes legislation formally apologizing for the institution of slavery, and now he's trying to decriminalize marijuana. Who does he think he is? Marcus Garvey?

Cohen told the self-confessed pot smokers that his own campaign polls have shown nearly 3-1 support for medical marijuana. "This is an issue that's important," Cohen said. "It's a freedom issue. It's an intelligence issue... I'm proud to be here." News reports said Cohen received nearly as loud an ovation as did Cheech & Chong, if not the belly laughs. It is a certainty that Cohen's political opponents will seize upon this issue in the 2010 elections. The conservatives will say that he's in league with Barack Obama in attempting to indoctrinate the nation's youth. And his Democratic opponents, including a group of African-American "ministers" who disliked his support over the passage of a hate crimes bill, of all things, will accuse him of being in favor of drugs in the 'hood, when what they actually mean is they don't want Steve Cohen there. The congressman, however, has shown consistency in voting his conscience, and anyone who is even vaguely informed knows that he is on the right side of history.

History teaches that cannabis was made illegal in the 1930s after a study by the Harry Anslinger Commission linked its' usage with illegal workers from Mexico. A marijuana "devil weed" campaign of provocative disinformation followed and was accepted as gospel until the beatniks and hippies exposed the hysterical propaganda as just plain silly. Today, cannabis cultivation is a billion dollar domestic industry that operates on cash and remains untaxed and unregulated despite the fact that, according to author Eric Schlosser, "There are more people in prison today for violating marijuana laws than at any other time in American history." Given the supposition that any mind altering substance is not good for children or the developing brain, isn't it time we admitted that marijuana is a gift from God for grown-ups and good for what ails ya'? Cohen speaks of pot giving comfort to the dying, but how about the living? This innocuous weed eases nausea, pain, and anxiety in most people, while causing passivity in its users. The Rastafarians use it as a religious sacrament, and there are now as many cannibis connoisseurs as wine experts. I suppose I've spent a full third of my life in bars and nightclubs, and I have seen a thousand fistfights, all fueled by alcohol. But I have never, ever, witnessed a pot smoker get high and become violent, unless he was about to be ripped off for drugs or money.

And that's the crux of the problem. Remove the massive illegal profits from pot cultivation and distribution, regulate it, and disassociate marijuana from other Schedule 1 drugs like Heroin and PCP, and prisons would suddenly have room for the rash of violent felons among us. The group for which Rep. Cohen spoke, The Marijuana Policy Project, issued recent statistics showing cannabis arrests outnumbering arrests for all violent crimes combined. And the hypocrisy of accepting thousands of deaths per year resulting from drunken driving while incarcerating nearly fifty thousand people, one out of eight prisoners, for pot use is dumbfounding. Yet the alcohol bandwagon rolls on unabated, creating shareholder wealth while destroying lives in its wake. New Jersey, however, has just become the 14th state to legalize medicinal marijuana and the ski-town of Breckenridge, Colorado has just decriminalized pot possession completely. There are a lot of rich folks in Breckenridge that just grew weary of the hassle and decided to stop pretending. And the Obama administration announced it will no longer conduct federal raids on state approved marijuana dispensaries, as the Bush government did in California.

We can all agree in hindsight that the temperance movement and the "Noble Experiment" of prohibition from 1919-1933, was a miserable failure with unforeseen consequences. The governmental ban of alcohol and liquor gave birth not only to thousands of "speakeasies," but led directly to the formation of the modern crime organization in America, whether known as the Mafia, the Mob, or La Cosa Nostra. Not just men with names like Capone or Luciano made millions from smuggling and bootlegging, but families named Kennedy and Bronfman did as well. After more than a decade of fierce bloodletting, the public had enough and repealed the 18th Amendment, abandoning prohibition. That "tipping point" has been reached again in the case of marijuana. Ordinary people are tired of seeing SWAT teams kick down doors and passive users being brutalized. Parents are weary of their children establishing arrest records over possession of a joint. And the people of the Southwest are sick of the Mexican drug gangs and their American accomplices who murder journalists, judges, and innocents to protect their cash flow. All this can end with the stroke of a pen. And with common sense congressmen like Steve Cohen leading the way, who says "It can't happen here?"

Monday, January 04, 2010

Flying By the Seat of Your Pants

It's wondrous how quickly the Transportation Security Administration leaps to the task of preventing an attempted act of terror that's already happened. First, the Shoe Bomber assured that the flying public would forever tiptoe through security in their stockinged feet, and then a couple of half-assed, bathtub chemists made certain you're not allowed  a bottle of water on a plane. Since the attempted destruction of a American  Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit, the press has dubbed the latest perp the "Underwear Bomber," though I much prefer the more accurately descriptive, "Taint Bomber." Following the TSA's logic, the next step is for everyone to fly naked. If these guys are always a step behind the terrorists, why do they call it "intelligence?" Now, before my octogenarian mother can pass through a security checkpoint, she first has to be patted down by an overly empowered high school dropout in a uniform.

The Taint Bomber, of course, hid explosives in his briefs, which malfunctioned, giving new meaning to the term Great Balls of Fire. Now, the cry is for the installation of full-body X-ray devices, which leave nothing unrevealed to the observer and fulfill every young boy's fantasy of being Superman. I could give a damn if some "professional screener" saw me in my underwear, but if I were a woman, I might be concerned that the man behind the curtain may be enjoying his job a little too much, especially if he is entrusted with the saved images that would be needed to provide any evidence to the authorities. The American public sheepishly goes along, tolerating any abuse for the illusion of safety. The new rule about not going to the bathroom during the last hour of a flight will certainly need to be revisited after passengers start peeing on the floor. And, no books? What the hell are you supposed to do on one of these flying disease incubators; meditate? If you did that, someone might mistake you for a religious extremist and the next thing you know, you're experiencing a full cavity search by a zealous teenager on a summer internship.

As terrible as the potential disaster on Christmas day may have been, the shameless exploitation of the terrorist action by the GOP, not to merely politicize the event, but attempt to fund-raise because of it, is repugnant. Say the word "hijacker" to a Republican, and like a Pavlovian response, they begin to salivate over the possibility of bashing the president over national security, especially the disgraced, future convicted felon, Dick Cheney. The now worst former vice president in American history issues missives from his cave that seem more intent in harming the president rather than preventing future attacks. In fact, Cheney and a handful of hawks almost seem to be wishing for a domestic cataclysm on Obama's watch so they can say, "See? We're not the only ones who allowed  an egregious lapse of security to cost American lives." I have come to the opinion, expressed frequently by commenters to these posts, that the Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are a bunch of whores (my Representative excepted). The difference is that the Republicans are particularly nasty and syphilitic whores, and thus a danger to the common good. The torture party's credibility on national security is shot and can't be restored by a "Democratic" airline disaster.

Who wants to endure the humiliation involved with airline travel anymore? This is why programs like high-speed rail are so important, not just to offer an alternative to the airline monopoly, but to ease the chaos at the airport and lesson the traffic on the highways. Want to know why we are light years behind the Europeans and Asians in the development of high-speed rail?: 50 years worth of congressional cash from the airlines, muscle from a corrupted Teamsters Union, and cheap gas, which strangled the railroads in their tracks, so to speak. I would much prefer riding in a 300 mph bullet train than spending the extra two hours of useless screening before being herded onto another austere and tension filled flight. The Madrid bombings proved that trains are as equally vulnerable to terrorist attack as planes, but if an explosive device detonates on my mode of transport, I'd rather already be on the ground than blown out of the sky.

The system in place should have prevented the latest violent Islamic extremist from boarding a flight in Amsterdam, but the system failed. The Obama administration, clearly flustered, attempted to explain that he was not on the "no fly list," but rather the "watch list" which contains half a million names. Bulletin: We have computers now, so rather than harassing millions of passengers at their point of origin, wouldn't it be wiser to invest more in computerized file sharing between the airlines, in conjunction with governmental security agencies? As it now exists, the TSA merely reacts, rather than project or predict, and the hands-on approach is only succeeding in infuriating passengers and disrupting air travel; exactly Al Qaeda's intentions. How difficult is it to punch up a prospective ticket buyer's name in a security database and insist on photo identification, rather than accept cash for a one-way ticket? The Taint Bomber made it through security undetected and someone must accept responsibility, but the real question is why was this known suspected jihadist, whose own father warned of his radical intentions, allowed to purchase a ticket on a domestic airliner in the first place?