Thursday, January 15, 2015

Boko Haram terrorists slaughter hundreds--perhaps thousands--of Nigerians; US cable news too busy in Paris

Photo via The Telegraph

Here are terrorists brutally murdering--burning alive!--not just dozens, but as many as two thousand human beings in Baga, Nigeria. Same week as the AQAP attack in Paris. Just more deadly by orders of magnitude (and they're busily wiping out people in Cameroon now).

And yet... Did you see 24/7 cable news coverage of this horrific slaughter, as we saw of the Paris murders?

Can you guess why? Go on, guess.


Amnesty International has details. Awful, sick-making details. And satellite shots that give one a clearer appreciation for the scope of these shocking attacks (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Whiter Shade of Male: Meet the GOP's 2016 Presidential Lineup 1.0

From Sean Hannity comes the January 2015/FOX News version of the GOP's 2016 Presidential Offerings, fondly referred to--among lefty wags, at least--as The Clown Car.  It's early still, and the thing is not quite ready for market--call it a Concept Clown Car.

For one thing, Rand Paul, Dr. Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Allen West seem to be missing, though you'll often hear their names bandied about the blogosphere and Twitterverse. And where is Marco #DubiousRubio Rubio, Mr. Hannity? Do you have something against Floridians? Harrumph.

Which Republican do you want to be president? Hannity asks brightly.

No, there's not a woman in sight, but Hell's bells, people, look at all these choices! You've got:

  • Overweight White Guy
  • Wealthy White Guy From Political Family
  • Generic White Guy
  • Generic White Guy with White Hair
  • Another Generic White Guy
  • White Guy With Indian Name Who Changed His First Name To Sound More White-Guy-ish
  • White Guy with Glasses and Felony Indictment
  • White Guy With Strong Religious Convictions and Simmering Woman Issues, and…
  • Wealthy White Guy, Also With Religious Convictions, Also From Political Family, Also With Simmering Woman Issues (binders full of 'em, in fact).

Never let it be said that the Republican Party isn't all about the diversity.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Thoughts on Paris #JeSuisCharlie

To arms, comrades! #CharlieHebdo
By Chilean political cartoonist Francisco J. Olea

Writing, drawing, and publishing criticism of people's religion--and doing so in a deliberately crass, offensive, and even obscene way--is not something that I personally would engage in. Even if it was not, in today's environment, the equivalent of poking at a wasp's nest or splashing kerosene on smoldering coals, I simply wouldn't do it. Not in that manner.

I don't belong to any organized religion. But some of the people I love, do. To them, and to people I don't know and may never know, but whose rights to believe as they see fit I nonetheless recognize and respect, it is my custom to extend the courtesy of not mocking their religion. Of refraining from questioning tenets of their faith, no matter how silly I might consider them, until and unless they affect me personally or affect public policy. And even then, I would challenge their beliefs only inasmuch as they restricted the freedoms of others; I would do my best to avoid being nasty or sneering. TL;DR: I'm a nice girl, and being a provocateur is not my job.

At the same time, though, I not only wholeheartedly support the right of citizens and members of the press to write, draw, and publish criticism of people's religion--even highly offensive criticism--I'm also moved to reiterate the absolute necessity of them doing so in a free society, and to oppose any and all notions that the state should somehow restrict the free expression of religious criticism.

To invoke Frank Zappa: Words. Just Words.

I sometimes get offended by things I see and read. But I am not harmed by them: instead, they provoke me to examine my thinking, at which point I may be offered, as Mill once said, "the opportunity of exchanging error for truth", or else "the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

Moreover, I have the freedom to click away; to turn my head from the television; to not buy the magazine; to ignore; to forget.

When power--be it in the form of traditional government or self-appointed or state-sponsored terrorist forces--gets involved in restricting free speech, we no longer fully have those opportunities, perceptions, or rights. Because the end result of the restriction of speech by power is violence, as it was in Paris yesterday. And when people wind up dead, we no longer have anything at all--neither freedom, nor rights, nor, ultimately, breath.

Je suis Charlie.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Florida's proposed Amendment 2, the Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, begets advocacy group Kush Liberty

As the November elections draw near, with Amendment 2--commonly known as the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative--getting plenty of press in our state, I wanted to share this press release sent to me today:

Kush Liberty of Tampa, Florida, a group of local marijuana advocatesthat provide marijuana news and resources via their, are raising funds for an online community and mobile application that will serve as advocacy tools for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and industrial uses.
The Group is asking for $30,000 with which the team will produce an online community, a mobile application, and the necessary marketing and promotional tools to build awareness of the Group's offerings. The online community will be an extension of the current website and will provide a safe environment for users to communicate publicly or privately and to organize meet-ups and rallies. The Android/Apple mobile app will provide updated stats and information about the legalization of marijuana. The Group feels these tools will enable the community to be effective advocates who will then work to spark the vote in Florida and beyond. 

Lots more information here.

Be sure to get out and vote, everyone!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Grand jury dismisses charges against fired TSA agent Jeno Mouton

Former TSA agent Jeno Mouton worked for the agency for twelve years, often putting in overtime hours at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

As TSA News reported in February, Mouton was fired from his job and arrested on charges of making "terroristic threats."

A Harris County grand jury recently dismissed the charges against Mouton, finding there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the TSA's case.

TSA News spoke to Mouton, as well as his attorney, Shanna Hennigan, who confirmed that all the charges were dropped and that the grand jury dismissed the case, also known as "no-billing" it.
"They ruled that the details [as submitted by the TSA] were either uncorroborated or completely untrue," said Hennigan.

Hennigan said the TSA's case focused on a single sentence of Mouton's discussion with a supervisor on Saturday, January 25th of this year -- a discussion that Mouton himself had requested, following protocol that employees should bring workplace concerns and frustrations to the attention of their supervisor.

"At the end of it, I said something like, 'I'm glad we could have this talk, because I don't want to be like some type of crazy person that would come back and do something like shooting up the place', and I thanked her, and then I punched in and went back to work my overtime shift," said Mouton.

After a little over an hour, however, Mouton says he was asked to hand over his credentials and go home for the rest of the weekend, then report back on Monday morning, before his scheduled shift that day.

On Monday morning at around 8 o'clock, he met with Federal Security Director Olusheyi Ogunleye. Ogunleye had Mouton sign a written statement about his discussion with the supervisor on Saturday, then he handed Mouton back his credentials and told him to return to his post. Mouton worked the entire day. At 4 p.m., a TSA administrative assistant informed him that he was being placed on administrative leave until further notice. He was required to once again turn in his credentials.

Mouton said that he didn't hear from anyone at the agency the following day, but on Wednesday he started getting calls from concerned friends (co-workers) at the agency, who told him there was now a BOLO ("Be on the Lookout") alert for him. That Friday evening, Houston Police Department showed up at Mouton's door and arrested him.

Mouton and his attorney said his statement at the end of his conversation with the supervisor was in no way meant as a "terroristic threat." They believe the TSA were being both disingenuous and illogical. Disingenuous, because supervisors saw fit to take a single sentence completely out of context, attach the dread T-word to it, and fire a man who had worked for them for twelve years--and then have him arrested on charges of making a "terroristic threat," effectively ruining his chances of finding well-paying work in the future. Illogical, because if Mouton had posed such a threat, why was hensent back to work that Friday afternoon? Why was he also told to report back to the airport on the following Monday, at which point he was given his credentials and assigned to his post for the entire day?

This isn't the first time the TSA has either taken words out of context or overreacted to an innocent joke. There is also a common theme in evidence: the lack of logic and common sense that has TSA agents confiscating supposed potential explosives -- be they tubes of toothpaste, bottles of shampoo, or jars of face cream -- and casually tossing them into a bin located just a few feet away from hundreds of passengers waiting in line; and the lack of logic and common sense that led the TSA to send Jeno Mouton, a man they considered to have made "a terroristic threat", back to work, for multiple shifts, in one of the country's largest international airports.

Attorney Hennigan also noted that her client did not return to the airport after he was put on administrative leave, as news reports claimed. Mouton confirmed this, and added that there was no videotape record of such an appearance, either. Said Mouton:
"And on top of all that, if they really believed I was any kind of threat, there are protocols they were supposed to have followed. They never shut down any part of the terminal. They brought me back to do my job, that afternoon, and then again all day Monday."
Mouton has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hennigan says he is working part-time, but at a greatly reduced salary. Mouton says the most important thing for him right now is to clear his name and find well-paying work. In an email to TSA News, he points to an egregiously racist and erroneous article online (we won't link to it). He writes:
"Some of the things that I've been encountering on the Internet and stuff that's been damaging to myself and my family. All because of this alleged allegations of the TSA. My God, this stuff is so hurtful and degrading." 
TSA News reached out to the TSA for comment; no one from the agency has responded.

(Screengrab photo courtesy of Click2Houston)

Also at TSA News.

Friday, June 27, 2014

TSA crime featured in Netflix series Orange is the New Black

TSA is the new IRS.

Allow me to explain. Throughout history, literature, cinema, television, and even religious texts have employed the archetype of the heartless, obtuse, and abusive government agent; in so doing, writers have frequently turned to some variant of the tax-collector. This character--a loathsome IRS agent, say--usually symbolizes an overarching societal ill. By giving physical form to the source of our despair--and oftentimes, equipping him or her with a bitterly comedic persona and a reliably Orwellian vernacular--writers have explored, with varying degrees of success, such issues as the soullessness and waste inherent in bureaucracy; the creeping malignancy of government overreach; and the sadistic, sociopathic criminality that invariably begins to flow when some humans are allowed to wield outsized, unearned power over other humans.

Now that Americans--a people whose very existence  as a nation and culture is largely rooted in migration, in travel--find themselves being forced to submit to unwarranted, intrusive searches of their bodies and belongings, at the hand of the government, simply because they wish to engage in said travel, it was probably inevitable that the TSA-agent-as-emblem would begin appearing in popular culture.

The well-received Netflix series Orange is the New Black, now in its second season, is a drama set in a women's prison. What makes the show compelling is that the writers, in addition to scripting a present-day storyline that takes place inside the institution, routinely explore the inmates' individual backstories through flashbacks. Thus, characters who initially seem harsh, difficult, and generally unlikeable become fully realized and sympathetic once their humanity is revealed to the viewer. Concurrently, a funny, attractive, and/or appealing character can, when her backstory is told, turn the viewer's perception of her on end: she has now become abhorrent.

This is precisely what happens in Season 2, Episode 7 of Orange is the New Black (entitled Comic Sans), wherein we get to really know the once-likeable inmate named Cindy. From Tom & Lorenzo's excellent recap:
Cindy gets her flashback this episode and like Lorna’s, it served as a jarring reminder that some of these ladies, no matter how entertaining they are as inmates, are real assholes in the outside world. To an almost shocking degree, she was shown to be irresponsible and self-absorbed, leaving her sister/daughter alone in a car while she runs upstairs to get high with friends or constantly abusing her position as a TSA agent, in a manner that taps into real fears people have about the security state in this country.
By "abusing her position as a TSA agent", they are referring to the Cindy character engaging in the unethical and illegal acts that real-life TSA agents engage in every day, at airports across the country, and have for years. As documented in TSA Newsblog's extensive (and ever-growing) Master List of TSA Crimes and AbusesWasteFraudTheft of passengers' belongings (especially electronics, like iPads). Inappropriate sexual touchingWaste writ large.

The TSA's abusiveness being so clearly depicted in a TV show can be viewed two ways. It is disturbing to consider that this agency's criminality has become pervasive (and invasive) enough to earn the TSA agent/character a place in the imaginations of screenwriters. But it's also gratifying in the sense that these artists are choosing to shine the light of popular culture on issues--most saliently the government-sanctioned violation of our Fourth Amendment rights--that far too many Americans still pooh-pooh as "needed security". Until the abuse, theft, or assault happens to them.

[Photo via the tumblr Orangeis]

Friday, May 30, 2014

I'm on BBC World Radio, talking about Edward Snowden

Greetings, all.

I'm back at my blogging dashboard after an extended hiatus. Though I have been tweeting regularly in the interim, as time permitted, which is how the BBC found me yesterday and invited me to be on their discussion panel show, World, Have Your Say.

The topics: Edward Snowden--traitor or patriot?--as well as the NSA's warrantless wiretapping of hundreds of millions of innocent American citizens and residents (crimes against the Constitution or jaw-dropping treason, ahem).

(I've made it clear that I believe Snowden is a patriot. And I stated long ago how wrong these warrantless surveillance programs are.)

I'm not an experienced radio personality, but I nonetheless enjoyed speaking my mind. My debate opponents, arguing in opposition to me, were a constitutional lawyer in New York and an IT engineer in Washington, DC.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. You can access the May 29th show here, then mouse over the leftmost photo in the middle row of the photo grid, and you'll get a Listen now pop-up. The Snowden discussion begins at the 45:50 point.