Category Archives: Politics


my own reflections on 9/11

Earlier this month was the 10-year anniversary of the “9/11” jumbo jet terrorist attacks, and lots of us here in the US are reflecting on the events, how things have changed since then, and what it all means. I don’t know what it says about me, but my own feelings about 9/11 are different than those I most often read about.

The Chickens

On 9/11/01, I was essentially unemployed. I’d been laid off my job at a dot-com startup company a couple months earlier, and was doing my best to establish a consulting business. But due to the post-dot-com economy, I was having a hard time of it. I first heard about the airliner crashing into the World Trade Center by email from an acquaintance of mine. Initially, I didn’t have any sense of the scale of the issue, so I didn’t turn on the news. Then, later there was another email about the second crash, and that’s when I tuned into the television coverage, which was all over every channel.

I was astonished by the immensity of the disaster. I don’t think anyone expected the buildings to come tumbling down; I sure didn’t. To this day, I doubt even the planners of the attack expected their mission to be so “successful” (I should note that although I love conspiracy theories, I’ve never bought into the “9/11 was an inside job” theory). I remember feeling numb at the time, but also immediately thinking this must be the doing of Osama bin Laden. Anyone who had paid any attention to international news over the previous decade knew that his attacks were getting bigger and bigger. And so the attacks didn’t really surprise me as I think they did some people.

In the following days and weeks, I kept reading about how the American people were so “shocked” by the attacks. But as soon as it happened, the phrase that popped into my mind was “chickens coming home to roost.” If you’re not familiar with the idiom, it means that if you do enough bad things to someone, eventually they’ll do bad things back to you. From the perspective of many of the downtrodden in the Middle East, the USA had done a lot of bad things to them. And eventually, I felt, all the bad karma of how we’ve treated the locals created an environment where bin Laden could easily get recruits and funding for terrorism.

This idea that we – America – had done wrong to any of the locals in the Middle East never did get much attention in the press. It certainly wasn’t politically correct to discuss in the hyper-jingoistic days that followed the attacks. Most Americans portrayed in the media had an attitude more like, “We never did anything to them, so how could they do this to us?” Well, unfortunately, we had a long history of doing bad things to “them” – at least from their perspective. As of 2001, Americans had…

  • historically supported Israel over Palestine, which essentially means supporting Judaism over Islam
  • exploited local resources (oil in particular) without any compensation reaching the common people of the lands
  • put into power dictators (like the Saudi royal family, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein) who were friendly to our extraction interests, and then turned a blind eye when they brutally suppressed factions of their own people

In short, even though we usually don’t think of America as an empire, we acted pretty imperialistic in the 20th century in the Middle East. It shouldn’t have surprised us, the American people, so much when the local commoners in those empires we created rose up. We have our own history of rebellion against imperialism. And yet, we did act surprised.

Leadership and Divisiveness

Another case of my feelings about 9/11 being way different from my friends is regarding the response of our elected officials. It was terrible right from the beginning and never really got any better. Think back to the week following 9/11/2001. This big national shock and tragedy just happened. The talking heads are calling it the Pearl Harbor of our generation. Gas prices spike wildly, based on speculation that OPEC is going to cut off our lifeline. People rush to the grocery stores to stock up on supplies. The airlines are shut down for the first time anyone can remember. Here is the perfect opportunity for our President to bring America together for a unified goal.

Some great possible goals might have gone like this:

  • Our dependence on oil from the Middle East comes at too high of a cost. We as a nation must dedicate ourselves immediately to cutting back.  In the short term, conservation. In the long term, develop local energy sources.
  • Too long have we ignored the ordinary citizens of the Middle East, and allowed a culture of fear and hatred to develop. America will re-dedicate itself to fostering education, health care, and prosperity to being the people of the region into the modern world, where democracy and free speech are treasured.

But instead we got “America is open for business” and repeated messages that it is patriotic to go out and spend, spend, spend. President Bush could have used this opportunity to kick off a program for Americans to achieve any of a number of great things, but he fumbled the ball. All we got was the message to get back to work, and there’s no need to make personal sacrifices. So we launched these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without any belt-tightening whatsoever.

In World War II, that belt-tightening was part of what brought Americans together. Everyone gave up a little for the war effort – gasoline, rubber, cigarettes, whatever. But after 9/11 nobody had to give up anything. Instead, we were encouraged to go buy an SUV and a bigger TV. That’ll show those Muslim extremists!

As the months rolled on, it became more and more clear that Bush’s strings were being pulled by the Vice President, Dick “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” Cheney.

An acquaintance of mine (an accomplished part-time sports journalist named Tom George) posted a note to Facebook:

If there is one happy memory about 10 years ago today, it’s how we all came together as a nation. Yeah…we argue and fight amongst each other about all sorts of different things. But when someone takes a swipe at us, nobody circles the wagons like the USA can. As somber as this anniversary is every year, this one happy memory probably fills me with more patriotic pride than the 4th of July or any other national holiday does.

Sadly, I don’t see it that way. My impression of the past 10 years it that my country’s response to the attacks has divided the country more than united us. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

And a Facebook note from another acquaintance (Jenny Nunemacher) sums up my feelings better than I think I can:

[…]What is most troublesome to me is that the Patriot Act and all those other militaristic actions in the years since have proven that the terrorists got what they wanted. They assaulted our freedom and WE LET IT CONTINUE TO HAPPEN. We may be incrementally more safe, but we are less free.

Our Legacy

I’m very proud to be a US citizen. I’m patriotic and would rather be in America than anywhere else. I know it probably sounds corny to some of you, but I tear up sometimes when they sing the national anthem at a baseball game (or a roller derby bout). So I think I lot about America’s legacy. What will my generation be remembered for? Are we going to leave this world better than it was before?

It’s because I care so much about these things that I feel so negative about 9/11 and our response to it.

We could have set a great example to the rest of the world of how understanding and compassionate Americans can be. But instead we went on a witch hunt, rounded up anyone who looked like they might be a terrorist, tortured some of them, and held the rest as permanent prisoners, breaking our own laws and international law in the process. We definitely didn’t take the moral high road.

We could have set a great example to the rest of the world of how wise the one remaining superpower can be. But instead we treated the attacks not as a criminal matter, but as an international “war”.

We could have used this as an opportunity to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. But instead we deployed our military and thousands of mercenaries without regard to budgets or funding.

We could have thumbed our noses at terrorism. But instead we played right into the terrorists’ plans. Why did the terrorists hate us? They hate us for our freedom, we were told. And then we turned around and gave up some of our freedom in the interests of “security”.

Why are they called terrorists? Because they accomplish their political goals by causing terror in their enemies. So to fight terrorism, we should do things to make ourselves less afraid, right? But instead we made ourselves more afraid. Don’t believe me? Go to any airport, and stand in the security line. Ask people as they pass through the inspection process, “Do you feel more afraid or less afraid to travel today than you would have in 1980?”

I really hope that this is all just a pendulum, and that it’ll swing back, especially in my lifetime. In the decade that has passed since 9/11 I haven’t seen any signs of it, but I still hold out hope.

I got the porno scanner and the grope down both in one day

Beth and I went to South Padre Island for Thanksgiving this year, and I got subjected to not one – but both – of the controversial new security protocols.  I got the “porno scanner” and then got the “grope down” both while passing through the same security checkpoint.  Here’s my story.

I’m writing this at the end of Thanksgiving Weekend 2010.  One of the big topics in the news and on people’s minds right now is a new security program that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) recently implemented.  The primary “safeguard” is a new set of scanners called “Advanced Imaging Technology”.  There’s a bit of an uproar right now because the radiation from the scanners may be unsafe, and also because the pictures they take of what you look like under your clothes are quite realistic.  The backup plan for someone who “opts out” of the new scanner is what they’re calling an “enhanced pat down” which entails a TSA agent touching the traveler in a rather intimate way (which is why many call it the “grope down” – I guarantee if I touched a stranger that same way, I’d be arrested for sexual assault).

Well, I got both of these, and learned first-hand about the process.  For some reason, the special scanner (occasionally called the “porno scanner” since it essentially makes your clothing invisible to the guy reviewing the photos) was not in use when we flew from Denver to Texas.  It was turned off, and had a big orange cone inside where the people would go.  So they were just using the old fashioned metal detector.  But on the way back, the airport in Harlingen had a working porno scanner, so that was my first direct exposure.

As we were passing through security at Harlingen, I did the usual stuff air travelers have been doing since the increased paranoia that started with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  I took my shoes off, took my coat off, took my belt off, took my laptop out of its bag, etc.  While my stuff went on the conveyor through the x-ray machine, I stepped into the scanner.  There are marks on the floor to show you where to put your feet, and then you’re supposed to stand there with your hands up in a submission pose (like “don’t tase me, bro”) while they scan you.  A few seconds later, they said I can continue, and so I stepped out of the booth.

Then a TSA agent (a male) came to talk to me.  He asked if I was wearing a necklace or something around my neck.  I wasn’t, and showed him.  Then he told me he was going to pat me down around the buttocks.  He made a big point to emphasize that he would be using only the backs of his hands – not the palms. I guess you can’t really grope someone with the backs of your hands.  Again, I stood with the feet on the special footprint markers on the floor.  He said to put my arms straight out at my sides.  Then he started to pat me down, and quickly came to my wallet.  He asked me to take the wallet out and hold it in my hand with my ticket at arm’s length.

He patted around my sides, on both butt cheeks, and then between my legs.  When I say he patted between my legs, it wasn’t like he put his hands right on my junk.  Instead, he put each hand on an inner thigh, and then slid them up with medium force until they ran into my scrotum.  And then, like that, it was over.

He told me that next time I should take my wallet out of my pocket and send it through the conveyor belt with the rest of my stuff.  When it’s in your pocket, he said, it stops the scanner from being able to see through to your butt cheek, and that triggers a pat down.

The whole time, the guy was nice about it, helpful, and professional.  He was a middle-aged white male, and he was pretty laid back considering he pats nervous strangers’ scrotums all day for a living.  Thinking back on the situation, I remember feeling pretty dehumanized, like a cog in a machine.  But I’ve felt that way about airport security for the past decade.  I also felt that I had absolutely no control of the situation.  Nobody ever asked anything like, “Would you like us to do this in a private room?” or “Do you have any questions?”  Everything they said were very matter-of-fact commands: “Now I’m going to do this, and now you must do that.”

So that’s how my first experience went with both the porno scanner and the enhanced pat down.  And remember the question about the necklace?  I later figured out what must have triggered that comment.  The short sleeved shirt I was wearing had metal snaps, and the very top ones were unbuttoned (or unsnapped, more correctly).  So looking in the mirror, I realized that meant there would have been two halves of the top snap on either side of the next lower snap.  On the porno scanner, I guess that could look like a necklace.

My advice: don’t leave your wallet in your pants pocket when you pass through the porno scanner and don’t wear a shirt with metal snaps.  Or, alternatively, avoid air travel in the USA.

Two Battles Won: PATRIOT Reform AND State Secrets Reform Bills Pass House Committee | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Here is some much-needed GOOD NEWS from the War on Terror:

After a long two days of legislative battle, the House Judiciary Committee just finished its second day of debate on Chairman Conyers’ PATRIOT reform bill, HR 3845 (see our wrap-up of the first day). Thanks in no small part to those of you who used our action alert, the Committee rejected almost all amendments that would have weakened the bill’s reforms and voted to recommend the bill to the House floor by a vote of 16 to 10.

Even better, the Committee kept going after it was finished with PATRIOT to consider Representative Nadler’s State Secret Protection Act (HR 984), which would reform the state secrets privilege that the government has repeatedly used to try and throw EFF’s warrantless wiretapping cases out of court. After an impassioned defense by Mr. Nadler, who described how the government has used the privilege like a “magic incantation” to cover-up wrongdoing and warned that state secrecy “is the greatest threat to liberty at present,” the bill passed with even better numbers than the PATRIOT bill, 18 to 12!

Two Battles Won: PATRIOT Reform AND State Secrets Reform Bills Pass House Committee | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Interracial couple denied marriage license in La. – Yahoo News

Interracial couple denied marriage license in La. – Yahoo News
“A white Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.”

The couple live in Hammond, Louisiana, which is where I had my major ear surgery back in January.  The hospital sure was nice, I can say that.

Anyone want to guess how this issue will turn out?  Think the judge will be fired?  Or not re-elected?  Or whatever they do to bad judges in Louisiana?

teenage wasteland

I just heard the most poignant thing I’ve heard on TV in a while. Pete Townshend, writer and guitarist from The Who, said this in reference to his famous song “Baba O’Riley” (which many people mistakenly think is called “Teenage Wasteland”):

“For me – you know – that notion of ‘teenage wasteland’ – it is about waste. It’s not about getting wasted. It’s about waste. It’s about wasted life, wasted opportunity, wasted years. And I take full responsibility for the fact that my generation complained about the state of the planet and did nothing to change it.”

Now that’s a lot of guilt to live with!  But I see his point.  They were the biggest rock band and one of the most significant cultural phenomena in the late 1960s to the mid 1970s.  That’s quite a bully pulpit they had, if they had chosen to use it.

AIG: worried? updating resumes? retaining criminal attorneys?

Yeah!  You go get ’em, Mr. Cuomo.  These folks got some ‘splainin’ to do.  Now if someone just had the cojones to go after Cheney the same way.

We learned over the weekend that AIG had, last Friday, distributed more than $160 million in retention payments to members of its Financial Products Subsidiary, the unit of AIG that was principally responsible for the firm’s meltdown. – RAW DATA: Cuomo Letter on AIG Bonuses – Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum

Todd’s TSA Fantasy

Yesterday Beth and I traveled home by flying Southwest Airlines from New Orleans to Denver. As I was getting dressed, I had this little fantasy:

Wouldn’t it be cool if when we arrived they told us, “By order of the Obama Administration, the TSA has eliminated all elements of Security Theater and replaced them with only security screening practices that actually have an impact on passenger safety. So leave your shoes on, and bring your water bottle. Oh, and your Chap Stick – just keep it in your pocket.”

It turned out to be the most low-key security screening I’ve seen in the USA post-9/11.  There was only one line, and most of the time the screeners were just standing around waiting for passengers to arrive.  When we got to the front of the line, we had as much time to do the undress-pass-through-redress ritual as we needed, which is a good thing due to my current physical limitations.

I didn’t realize the Democrats will control the White House and both houses of Congress

Mark this one “duh” but I just now realized after looking at CNN’s election results that we’ll have a Democrat President as well as a Democratic majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Looks like the Dems will have all the chips, so to speak.  If they can’t achieve great things in the next two years, then shame on them!  They may not get this same opportunity again in my lifetime.

I voted for a winner, finally

ABC News just called the election for President of the United States in Obama’s favor.  And that means that for the first time in my life, I voted for a non-incumbent candidate who won the presidency.

In 2004, I voted for John Kerry, who lost to George W. Bush.

In 2000, I voted for Al Gore, who lost to George W. Bush.

In 1996, I think I voted for Bill Clinton.  He actually won, but was the incumbent.

In 1992, I voted for Ross Perot, who lost to Bill Clinton.

In 1988, the first election in which I could vote, I can’t remember for sure, but I think I voted for the Libertarian candidate, Ron Paul.  And of course he lost to George H.W. Bush.

Streetsblog » Obama Builds Rail Cred With Biden Pick

This is promising:

Streetsblog » Obama Builds Rail Cred With Biden Pick
Barack Obama’s standing as an advocate for investment in US commuter rail looks to have gotten a boost with his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. Whereas John McCain is the Senate’s sworn enemy of Amtrak, his colleague from Delaware is known as a “Champion of the Rails.”