This is an entry in desperate need of an editor. Apologies all around. I don’t usually write anything political, and you’ll now see why. My thinking is simplistic, and my writing is not particularly sophisticated. You want sophistication? There are a gazillion talking heads with Ivy League degrees out there. Seek and ye shall find. These are just my opinions. Your mileage may, indeed, vary.
Yesterday, over on Nickerblog, Shane Nickerson wrote an entry about complacency in the United States, and how our government is getting away with some unpleasant and nefarious things, domestic and international, as much of America sits back and watches. It’s a nice, short cautionary message. Shane writes in part: “Do not feel removed or separated from the actions of your government. They are representing you, and by not protesting and not standing up to vocalize your discontent, you are, in effect, condoning these actions. You know, they're counting on our complacency.”
Quite right, Shane. They are. They expect us to sit back and just watch the fun, fun, fun. And that’s not a good thing. I live in the suburbs of DC. Up until three months ago, I worked in a federal office a couple of blocks from the White House. And there is a kinda smirky, smarmy smugness to the White House today. You could feel it radiating out through the overconfident Republicans who ran the office where I worked.
Whether we like it or not – whether we support it or not – our government is the face of our people worldwide. And, frankly, I don’t want people 10,000 miles from here thinking that I’m some paranoid invader with blood on my hands and my neighbor’s stolen personal information in my pocket. (I also don’t want them to think I watch “American Idol” and “Big Brother”, but that’s another post altogether.)
First off, let me say this: in some major areas, I definitely fall in line with Democratic thinking; in others, Republican. I believe in strong borders. (And, thanks, customs and immigration guys for letting the crazy killer with the bag o’ bloody weapons over the border from Canada the other day. Jeeeezus.) After two years working the visa line at the American Embassy in Moscow, I believe in strong immigration policy. I do not find Republicans inherently evil. (Except for Ann Coulter. She may actually be the anti-Christ. I really think it’s a possibility.) I do not find Democrats inherently stupid and un-American. I was raised by one liberal Democrat and one conservative Republican. (My mother had a bumper sticker supporting gays in the military on her car. My father debated nuns on nuclear readiness. Go figure.)
I do not believe you can gauge patriotism and faith in your country by how many magnetized ribbons and flags with which you festoon your SUV. And, sometimes, folks, pride is a misplaced thing. Be proud of our traditions of tolerance and openness – go find a yellow ribbon that prays for those noble ideas to not totally vanish. They’re endangered species now, kids. Don’t be proud of us smacking the living shit out of another country. What we’re doing in Iraq is not World War II. This is not a noble quest. No way. No how. Pray for the youth of America sent to die. And pray for the people of Iraq, dying by virtue of location.
I appreciate conservatives in some ways - but don’t even get me started on pro-life issues. (Want more kids in the world? Make enough money to support ‘em and have ‘em yourself! I’m the 9th child of a pro-choice mom who actively supported Planned Parenthood.) I’m not keen on liberals who call themselves Starr*Fire, stop washing their hair and only come out to make puppets and get arrested at anti-World Bank rallies. That’s not putting your money where your mouth is. That’s just fucking up downtown traffic for the working-class people who have to clean those damn buildings you’ve just barricaded, and they’re gonna get docked a day of pay while you’re Flikr’ing your arrest by the DC police.
A friend says she thinks I’m a Libertarian, but I don’t know about that. I’m just who I am. I never vote party lines, but I do tend to stand to the left. I do not support what we are doing in Iraq. I believe it was done for the wrong reasons and under false pretenses. The Downing Street Memo makes me feel even more nauseated over the whole situation. I personally think it all boils down to one of my “favorite” Bush quotes: “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad.”
Finishing Pop’s unfinished business. Yessiree, bub.
And now we’re in there, and the whole place had turned to shit. We have to have an orderly departure from that place, but anytime I think about how the hell that can be achieved, my head nearly explodes. It’s going to take a whole lotta lives and money and months and years to make that happen. And our goodwill is spent. (While we continue to kiss Saudi ass, mwah!) Saddam Hussein was a horrible, horrible violent autocrat who treated his people like garbage. I really don’t give a shit if he’s stuck in a jail forever in his big, droopy manties, smearing his chest with nacho cheese Doritos dust. He’s an animal. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in the end, the Iraqi justice system decided to hang him upside in a shredder. That’s their business.
As for our business? We weren’t invaded by Iraq. We weren’t attacked by Iraq. North Korea and China scare the shit out of me more than Iraq ever could, frankly.) And we’ve come in and created a whole new level of chaos and turned the streets red with our blood and theirs. This isn’t like the Stones trashing a hotel room. We can’t just throw a pile of USAID money at this in a couple of years and assume everything’s hunkey dorey again. Ain’t gonna happen. No frigging way.
But the problem isn’t just our foreign policy and our current who-the-fuck-cares attitude toward other nations. (Oh – quick point – Dick Cheney, you humiliated us by showing up at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by looking like a snowplow driver in your green parka, hiking boots, and fucking Spock-on-Earth ski cap. No class whatsoever. Shame on you.)
The government is not so quietly killing our citizen freedoms, and many people don’t ever seem to notice. Patriot Act, my ass. Wrap up some Big Brother scariness in something with the word “patriot” slapped on it and hope no one notices it’s actually the Fascist Act. How ugly and evil and wrong is that? The party of less government is creating a soul-sucking, dark side bureaucracy that sometimes makes the Soviets look like pikers. (Ask me sometime about my federal office-to-federal office call to Homeland Security once. The one where I was told to “go to hell” and that if I showed up at their office down the street to try get assistance, I’d be thrown out.) All in the name of security, these bastards can look up my library records?
I’ve given up worrying about my travel records. I know that’s a lost cause, unless I just drive my crappy car everywhere. My air travel has been carefully recorded by the USG since the days immediately following 9/11 – and I was traveling on behalf of the USG back then. I herded a group of Central Asians out to a trade show in Vegas just weeks after 9/11 happened. You can image the super fun I had going through airports getting on board with 20 swarthy guys named Hassan and Akbar and Islamov, especially when, despite my best advice, they would clump together near airplane restrooms, chatting in guttural Uzbek. (Great way to get a whole planeload of people silent, nervous, and shitting a brick sideways.)
I’m not going to get into how some of our ally nation guests – including folks from visa waiver countries – are treated like crap when they try to enter our country and put through a hell that would keep me from coming back. It borders on thug culture and police state terror in some cases. All those cases should be very widely publicized. Everyone needs to know about that shit. I’m not kidding.
I myself been pulled aside for so many extra checks, screenings – in some cases, harassment – I can’t begin to tell you. And all on official federal travel. Guv’ment ID and ticket, the whole nine yards. Once I got so frustrated, I said, “I’m flying on a federally-purchased plane ticket. I’m on official travel with a federally-background-checked high-level international delegation. There’s probably a file on me a mile high in DC. Why is it that I get pulled aside for extra checks all the time?” While I was quietly and indignantly getting very upset, someone was stealing money, my federal agency ID, and my Amex Card from my carry-on bag. (I was kept out of visual range of my bag while I was aggressively patted down after asking my question, which clearly pissed off the screener.)
Oh and let me tell you what a fantastic job those screeners do. One year, late making the last in a series of transfers from Almaty to Chicago, I had to carry my luggage to the gate. My suitcase, still packed with crap from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, had to go through the carry-on x-ray machine. The screeners were chatting amongst themselves. I panicked as my bag went through the machine – it was chockablock with Uzbek daggers, gifts from my host. I had to have a dozen really sharp knives right there, clearly visible on screen.
The screeners didn’t even look up. They just smiled and wished me a merry Christmas. Holy shit, dudes and dudettes. Holy shit. I wish I could have shared that episode with the Fox News audience. That there’s yer taxpayer money at work!
So, here we are. Big Brother hovers at our shoulder, our soldiers and Iraqi civilians are being blown to hell and gone every day, most of the planet hates our collective guts, and yet most of America is fixated on Michael Fucking Jackson and Tom Cruise getting squirted with water. Where the hell is the outrage? Are we just being complacent, lulled into a permanent Big Gulp sugar high, or do most Americans not even know how to make a difference? (See, I got around to Shane’s post. It just took me a while.)
I think there are a great many average Americans who are not complacent, but don’t know how to - or have the resources to - contribute to change in a meaningful way. There are millions who do not agree with what is going on in Washington, DC right now, but, other than adding their names to petitions, writing letters, and showing up at rallies when work and funds allow, they’re stymied. Most Americans are just concerned with working, getting home, sleeping, and making sure there's enough money for food and insurance before getting up the next day and starting the process over again. It’s hard to be politically motivated when you’re doing well enough to get by, but not well enough to have time to contemplate the big picture.
One of my sisters lives in rural Illinois. She is a nurse and her husband is a pit boss on a riverboat casino. He works a night shift and she juggles shifts at a hospital an hour away. The majority of their time away from work is spent trying to help their kids with homework, keep them healthy, help my ailing brother, feed their chickens, do battle with their plumbing, and keep the mortgage paid. For people with no time to watch TV or read a newspaper and a dodgy dial-up Internet account, they’re pretty well-informed. But they can barely find time to get in enough sleep, let alone be an active voice in the political process of our republic. And I imagine that their days and nights are repeated all over America by overworked, underpaid, and struggling people who hate what’s happening in Washington, but haven’t got the resources – or energy to pursue much more than the basics of life. (My sister’s pretty excited when she gets home with enough time to get the kids and the chickens fed before she crashes on the sofa.)
Let’s face it, most of the more active voices in politics are people with greater income and available time than the average American. Some of them are on the left, some on the right, but they’ve got more moolah than most of us, for sure. On the right, there are a handful of Hollywood celebrities, but for the most part, they represent the corporate sector. Wealthy, less flashy. (Lots of real estate mogul/political appointees out there. And they suck to work with, I can tell you from sad experience. Having donated $1M to a political party doesn’t mean you know jack shit about Central Asia.) On the left, you have a lot of Hollywood folk. And they know how to get press and they have the time and money to invest in putting their message out there. Folks on the right can bitch about lefty Hollywood, but the wealthy voices on the right are powerfully annoying, too. The left rambles on CNN and the right pontificates on Fox News.
Frankly, I haven’t liked CNN since they went through their retooling a few years back. Much of it seems flashy and cheap and crappy, like a Wal-Mart prom dress. Just the other day, I flipped on Headline News only to find the news was being interrupted to present a birthday cake to a staffer. Oy vey. Is it any wonder I get my TV news from The Daily Show? (I do read the Washington Post and a bunch of news sites online.)
Fox News? Not a great thing in my mind. Some scary-ass stuff wrapped up in a lot of red, white, and blue. Sean Hannity? Ucky. Bill O’Reilly? Very ucky. How can anyone take a network seriously when one of their voices of moral outrage is a guy who wants to phone-fuck his staff members and can’t keep a loofah and falafel straight in his shower fantasy? I wonder if the people who think of O'Reilly as a moral compass have ever read any of his sleazy fiction. Al Franken played a snippet of O'Reilly reading one of his own sex scenes from a book on tape the other day – almost drove off the road laughing. Maybe that can be a gift set with his "Kid's Who's Looking Out For You." He bitches about rappers, but writes bad porn. Nice.
Fox News! You decide! I did. And I passed.
I have a lot of issues with many of the dominant media voices of the right. Ann Coulter? She’s the epitome of the lowest common denominator. A long-leggedly troll doll who doesn’t deserve the acclaim she gets. I look forward to the day when her succubus powers fail and she is rapidly turned to a desiccated husk – She Who Walks Behind the Rove.
It troubles me greatly that so many Americans are getting their news from largely partisan sources that do not offer a full picture of the day’s events. With Ann Coulter, it’s particularly disturbing because much of what she says should carry a disclaimer like “for entertainment purposes only” – like Miss Cleo. But it doesn’t have a disclaimer, and people, hungry for news and truth, find her yapping and they believe her.
I worry about my friends and family members that rely on outlets like Fox News to help them form their world view. Some of my older siblings will send me bits and pieces from Fox News that curl my toes and it’s a struggle to not call them and try to engage in “healthy debate”. Of course, these particular siblings also enjoy forwarding ridiculous urban legend-filled chain e-mails as “true news”. So, to my oldest sister and her husband, may I just say, if you’re planning on sending me an e-mail that claims Hillary Clinton eats babies for dinner up at the house in Chappaqua, you’d best have run that sucker through Snopes first, okay?
If the dominant voices of conservatism were all like Andrew Sullivan, there’d be a helluva change in our political discourse. More Andrew Sullivan please, and fewer scare tactics! I only wish that most of America knew who Andrew Sullivan is. If you walked down a street or went to a shopping mall in my hometown in Illinois, most people would assume he runs a funeral home or a rental place for prom tuxes. I’m not belittling my hometown, by the way. Most of my dearest friends are there – smart, savvy, worldly people – and I reckon they’d agree with me.
I sincerely think that most Americans who blindly support the “my country, right or wrong” philosophy have a limited world view and little experience beyond our borders. I genuinely believe that time spent outside our country (outside of combat and bus tour groups, thanks) can be life – and opinion – altering. I've lost friends over this. For me, my time as a student overseas was unfreakingbelievable (and not entirely positive – I still remember the guy running the gift shop in a National Trust site in Wales who told me “we hate you fucking Americans.”) For the record, I’m not some elitist bonehead who thinks that the only way to be open-minded and aware is to have had a college education. (And, hey, all I have is a liberal arts B.A., which is the equivalent of toilet paper here in DC.) But regardless of your education, you have to be able to see beyond your borders and your immediate situation to understand that the world does not revolve around America.
Up until recently, I’ve had advantages that many Americans will never have. I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life living, working, and traveling overseas, mostly in socialist and developing country situations. I’ve seen firsthand how our foreign policy has affected the rest of the world – and I’ve also seen some pretty fucked up perceptions of America, too. (We haven’t completely cornered the market on ignorance and xenophobia, I will guarantee you, although we certainly are stocked up on it.) I've watched millions of our taxpayer dollars go into the hands of corrupt people and smiling jackasses who take our cash and then give us the finger as soon as our backs are turned. And I've also seen lots of decent and disadvantaged people around the world who need a hand, shake ours in gratitude and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
In many places, there are pretty twisted opinions of the United States thanks to not only our foreign policy, but our exported pop culture, and I used to spend a lot of time trying to untwist them. But now how the hell can I show my face overseas with what this White House has done and continues to do?
There are some great things about America. We can have a political discussion. (Unless you’re attending a Bush campaign stop and thugs throw you out for wearing the wrong t-shirt.) I can throw this post up on the Internet without fear of arrest (at least for now.) In China, Microsoft has had to filter the word “freedom” out of the titles of posts on its online forum. I can title this post “Monkey Spankin’ Freedom Boobies” and no one will blink an eye.
Heck, we even allow people who enjoy the music of Celine Dion to live among us. The American dream still exists in some form in some places. Especially if you’re a Canadian comic actor. We love our Canadian comic actors. (But we’re ready to give you back Celine, mes amis!)
But we have a truckload of problems and it’s up to us to find the ways to solve them. Shane’s post made me think about this. I genuinely don’t think most people are complacent, but they don’t know what to do in a meaningful way. Let me tell you – most of Washington just ignores rallies and marches. Rallies and marches may make the participants feel all warm and fuzzy, but they achieve very little. The president will plan to be out of town, it drains the already awfully limited DC budget, and the majority of Washingtonians will stay at home, after looking at the traffic info on the local news.
So, how do you motivate people who have limited time and income? And when you motivate them, what do you actually do? What do you ask them to do? And can any action make a difference if at least half our nation actually believes the White House is right? How do you change minds when most people only see what's on Fox News? These people aren't complacent - they're searching for answers. But how do you let them know there are other options, when they think they've already found a good one that swears it's giving you the whole picture?!?
Our nation is based on rule of law, but when law can be tossed around like a cheap bagged salad to showboat over one woman in a persistive vegetative state, how seriously can we take our system? Short of armed uprising, what the hell do we do to make meaningful change happen?
Lots of questions. What are the answers?