I hate ignorant people.Unfortunately, the ignorance level runs around 80-90% in America, what with people being more interested in the next Terminator movie, or who is matched up in the next Wrestlemania Smackdown! than in what is going on in International current affairs.Some examples.1) Senator Patty Murray (Wa-D) is currently being vilified on the talk radio programs, in newspaper editorials, and in numerous vicious letters to the editor in the local press. An example in our local paper, the Daily Olympian will provide some horribly glaring examples. One writer actually suggests that this sitting U.S. Senator should be tried for treason for making a blatantly unpatriotic speech! Senator Murray gave a speech to high school students and told them that Osama Bin Laden is well liked in other countries and by other cultures, and that the U.S. should try to understand why the world viewed us harshly because we enforce our U.S. Foreign policy through unilateral militarism and support for militaristic and dictatorial regimes. She didn’t support him, or make apologies for what he did, she condemned him, but challenged students to think about the whole issue on a global basis, rather than from a U.S.-Centric point of view.2) This latest brouhaha reminds me of another seemingly inane debate brought up in the local papers ten years ago, when another George Bush was in the white house. I was living in Anchorage, Alaska at the time and a local veteran’s group was protesting an art exhibit in a local gallery. The controversial exhibit, entitled What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? was basically a guestbook on a podium, which the artist wanted viewers to sign, but in order to get to the book, then had to step on, and walk across an American flag that had been laid out like a rug in front of the podium. Dozens of letters condemned the artist, and some members of the veterans group actually stole the flag a few times in order to “stop the desecration of the flag that so many had sacrificed their lives for.” Letter writers suggested that the Artist be arrested for everything from desecration of the flag to obscenity to treason. Eventually the controversy died down, but thinking back on it reminded me of the shame and hopelessness I feel when a Republican sits in the presidency.
3) Another example of the swinging pendulum of lost freedoms in America is airport security. Two days after my wedding last year, I was in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport seeing my stepdaughter off on her flight back to California after she’d flown up for the wedding. Since I’d been stuck in the airport the night before due to an incident involving some spilled non-dairy creamer in the airplane galley I’d brought my camera to take some pictures and kill some time. The night before, one of the flight crew noticed some spilled creamer and thought it might be anthrax and had the plane met by hazmat and emergency crews. They held the passengers after the plane landed until they searched and “cleared” the plane, but by that time, the pilots had been on duty too long, and they needed to cancel the next leg of the flight out due to work rules.
While waiting for the flight in the unsecured portion of the airport (they won’t let you down to the departure gates anymore, since only ticketed passengers can now pass through the metal detectors that lead to the flight gates) we had been taking pictures with my digital camera of our daughter and various other interesting things in the airport. Since this was only six weeks after the New York City terrorist attacks, there were marching groups of National Guard members, and a generally execessive police presence.
Since I’d had to wait over two hours in the over-priced airport bar the night before, basically twiddling my thumbs (the only open establishment in the airport that’s NOT in the secure concourse areas) we sat around taking pictures and laughing. At this time, NOBODY took notice of us, or seemed to have issues with what we were doing, even though there were literally dozens of police everywhere we went in the airport.
While my wife was escorting my daughter to the gate (she’s under 12, and needed to handed off directly to the flight staff), I strolled out to the departure drive, where passengers are dropped off with their luggage to get some fresh air. When I arrived, I noticed large line of police cars lining the drive, as if to block off the first lane to keep people from parking cars to close to the terminal. I decided to take a picture, and see if could get the camera settings adjusted for outside pictures with flash, so I lined up and framed a shot of the drive, and “click”, pressed the shutter button. As I did so, the camera flashed, and I noticed a police officer was cruising by on his bicycle, basically driving right into my shot. He noticed the flash, jumped off his bicycle and screamed “Did you just take a picture of me?”
Being sure I had done nothing illegal, and had nothing to fear from this “peace” officer, I calmly said “Yes, I think you rode into my shot, is that a problem?”
Here’s the Photograph
He replied “That’s a big problem, why did you take my picture?”
I proceeded to explain to him that I was not trying to take his picture, just a picture of the drive. I also explained that I was in public, in an unsecured area of the airport, and that I thought I was within my legal rights to take pictures, which I had been doing for over 45 minutes, in and around the airport, without anyone telling me I shouldn’t, and asked him if he felt I was wrong. Upon asking for identification I gave him my U.S. Passport, to which he replied it wasn’t a good enough ID (even though the U.S. Passport is *the* most offical ID you can carry in this country), I was told I had to give him my driver’s license, so he could run me for warrants.
After he cleared my ID, he started in with a barrage of contradictory statements, such as stating that I could be a foreign national, or a terrorist, (I had already given him my U.S. Passport??) The he stated he was undercover, (In full Police Gear, with a reflective “Police” embroidered on the back of his blue police coat with police department logo on his shoulder, on his bike marked “Police”) and that I could jeopardize his work if I published his picture. I pointed out the obvious flaws in his statements, but he would just bark our some other ridiculous allegations, with me effectively refuting each one with logic and truth. He was getting pretty agitated, so I told him I thought he just needed to calm down, that there was nothing to be worked up about and again reiterated that I thought I had done nothing illegal, and unless he was prepared to suggest otherwise, I really didn’t want to talk to him anymore, and could I go now please? He started in with some nonsense about possible trespassing, but I stated that I had been there to drop someone off, and was waiting for my wife to return from the gate, and unless he was prepared to ask me to leave, officially, then trespassing couldn’t apply. He mumbled something about how things have changed, and I have to give up freedoms for security now. I then stated that I didn’t think anything had changed that would warrant me giving up my freedom, and that as far as I knew, since I had done nothing illegal, could I please go now?
Capitulating, he said, “well ok, I’ve got your information, just don’t go taking pictures of any of my friends.”
I guess I should have just walked away and let him think he’d done his part to increase security in this “War on Terrorism” age we’re living in, but as I was walking away from him and back into the terminal to wait for my wife, I said, “Well, that might be hard, since I don’t know who your friends are.”
At that point, he came racing back down the ramp from the terminal drive to the inside of the terminal itself, and said, “OK, I’m going to have to get some more information out of you know, I’ve determined that you’re a ‘security risk’, so you’re no longer free to go.” He called for backup and started to barrage me with more questions.
“Who are you here to drop off?”, “What flight are they taking?”, “What’s their name?”, “Did you drive here?”, “Where is your car?” He asked me in rapid fire.
At this point, being completely fed up with this muscle-bound, possibly steroid-juiced seriously aggressive cop, I told him. “I think you are getting too agitated, I think you should call your supervisor before you make a mistake. I’m not resisting you, but since I haven’t done anything illegal, I don’t think you have the right to arrest me. I know I don’t have to answer your questions, and I’d rather not talk to you because of your aggressive attitude toward me.”
After some backup officers showed up, (a twenty-ish young fresh faced kid, who actually looked like a cadet, and an older Seattle police officer, who had seen me earlier, and the night before when the Mariners playoff game was playing in the airport lounge), they continued to ask me questions, stating that I “had to comply by answering or I would be arrested, physically assualted and taken in handcuffs to jail.” Again and again I asserted my right to not answer their questions, and again and again I was threatened with “being taken down hard if you don’t answer our questions” and was told “We’ve already made the decision to arrest you, it’s just a matter of whether we throw you down to the ground and make it rough”. The younger cop (airport security?) was especially gleeful in making numerous threats to me. I again stated that I had no obligation to answer his questions without a lawyer, and that I had not been placed under arrest, and that I was not resisting or acting agressive in any way, and had not been asked to leave, which a prerequisite for a trespassing charge in this state, and that I did indeed have legimate business in the airport, although I didn’t think that I could answer any questions until they had their supervisor (lieutenant?) show up, which I suggested would keep them from making a very large mistake.
Fearing that they would close down the entire airport, thereby delaying my daughter’s flight for ANOTHER day, I finally capitulated to tell them ONLY which flight she was on, and her name, so they could check to see if I was telling the truth. The first officer (Officer Schmid, of the Seattle Police Department), who’s picture I had taken, immediately walked over to the airline ticket counter and confirmed my information. At this time, the younger backup office continued to threaten my with physical violence, and again I pointed out that I was standing on my rights, and that I had broken no laws and was not resisting. he continued to argue that I was under an obligation to obey a direct police order, even a request for information, and that they would “take me down hard” and take me to jail if I didn’t answer his questions. At this point, I calmly asked him to back away from me, because I was fearing for my safety with his behavior, and pointed out again that I was not resisting and again told him I would speak only with a supervisory police officer.
At this time, a higher ranking older gray-haired Seattle Police officer showed up and told them to back away a little. (I’m sure he could see that I was NOT presenting any physically threatening body language, and indeed, had placed my arms behind the glass railing I was leaning back against, in order to appear submissive and non-threatening.
The supervisor was told by the older of the backup officers that had seen me in the airport the night before. “He was here doing the same thing here last night.” This was a complete fabrication, as I had not brought my camera, and sat quietly in the bar for over two hours watching mind-numbing baseball (which I consider insidiously boring) and milking a double vodka and a basket of french fries (16$).
The original officer had returned, after confirming that I had dropped off a passenger by the name I had given them, and that all seemed to check out. The supervisor decided it would be best to “escort” me, (with two large officers grabbing each of my arms, and a third wrenching my camera off my neck), to the “holding room”, where the original officer, (Officer Schmid), decided he was going to start to play nicey-nice, and said he wouldn’t arrest me. He said that he’d just “document the incident” for the security files, and have me sign a trespass warning, stating that I understand that I could be prosecuted for trespassing if I was in the airport without being there to either meet a plane, or if I was *myself* a passenger on an outgoing flight. He even said he’d check the box on the form that said it was an “advisory” rather than an “asked to leave for trespassing” warning. He acknowledged that I did indeed have a right to take pictures in the airport, but that “things have changed” and that I’d better be more careful. Again I told him that I disagreed, and that nothing had changed that would affect my lawful rights.
Upon escorting me back to the main terminal, he also offered to have my wife paged I couldn’t find her, since I’d been detained for over thirty minutes by him.
4) The next item on my list is just basically in indictment of the actions of the current white house and pentagon leadership. The old Reaganite “Hawks” brought out of retirement to help Bush the younger “finally deal with Saddam and his outlaw regime”. Of course I’m talking about Rumsfield, Ashcroft, Poindexter, and the rest of the “black ops” fixtures of decades gone by. They continually portray this “war on terrorism” as if these particular Islamic extremists are a serious threat to our country’s existence.
COME ON! These guys are Wile E. Coyote, Daffy Duck-ish, cartoon enemies, seemingly getting what arms they didn’t get directly from the CIA in Afghanistan from the ACME catalog! The Al-Qaeda terrorist training manual touted by the U.S. intelligence community as “proof” of their sophistication and threat level, is written at about an eigth grade level. More dangerous books on explosives and guerilla and terrorist operating techniques can be garnered from any local library with an archive of “Soldier of Fortune” magazines, or ordered from Loompanics. I mean, after decades of work and hatred against the U.S., the best these guys can muster is an occasional attack on a ship in the Persian Gulf, a bombing of a marine barracks in Saudi Arabia, bombings of civilian embassies in two large african cities, and one seemingly well planned and coordinated hijacking plan that tragically managed to take almost 3,000 lifes. As horrible and tragic as that event was, I believe it’s pretty much the best they’ll ever muster on American soil. If I was working in the Pentagon, I’d definately spend more of the anti-terrorism budget watching subversive American White Separatist Militia groups that these Arab clown warriors. Calling Al-Qaeda a serious threat to America is a complete and utter fabrication! Saying IRAQ has weapons of mass destruction, and therefore are a threat to freedom, completely ignores the fact that dozens of other countries, (some more actively embroiled in conflict with neighbors, such as Israel, India, Pakistan) have actual NUCLEAR weapons, the Grand-Daddy of all weapons of mass destruction. Shit, FRANCE has weapons of mass destruction, and we all know how unpredictable the French can be.
If we really believed in taking down oppressive dictatorial regimes by military force and replacing them with democracies, why aren’t we starting in Saudi Arabia, long known for cruel and oppressive denial of women’s rights, and of complete suppression of religious freedom. Its illegal for a woman in Saudi Arabia to be in the presence of a man other than her husband or her brother, or she can be charged with Prostitution. Its illegal for groups of foreigners to meet in private, in order to prevent any religous ceremonies or worship taking place, except officially sanctioned Islamic worship.
It is this damnable officially sanctioned Royal Saudi Wahhabi fundamentalist sect of Islam that is exporting the hatred and intolerance of other religions that fosters the attitudes in the middle east and southern Asia that fosters terrorism against Western society. Why are we attacking IRAQ again?
5) The average American doesn’t know anything about world affairs, the politics or history of nations, multi-national organizations (other than that the president says the UN is baaa-aaad) because they don’t get any good, thorough, objective news reporting. One last item that demonstrates how ignorant we are about world affairs in this country including the established press, is an experience I personally had while traveling in the Netherlands last spring. I had arranged to take another trip to Europe as a “second honeymoon”, in order to visit Scotland and some other northern European countries we had not visited on our first trip the previous fall. Being an extremely avid follower of foreign news, including political news, I was delighted to be in Europe during the election season. The fall before on my trip to Ireland, I was traveling through their country right as the new “Good Friday” goverment sharing agreement was facing it’s first real crisis. This time however, I would be privy to both the French and the Dutch elections, which were starting to generate considerable controversy. Radicals such as France’s Jean-Marie LePen and Austrian Jorg Haider had been attracting much attention in the press.
Also, a new rising star in Dutch politics was making a large splash with his populist message. Pim Fortuyn, the always elegantly dressed, articulately opinionated, and controversial politician was threatening in the opinion polls to take almost 30% of the seats in Dutch Parliament with his newly formed political party. While I was in Amsterdam, a most uncharacteristic thing happened in the Netherlands. An aminals-rights activist, who has yet to state why he did what he did, gunned down Fortuyn in cold blood, as he left a radio station after performing an interview. That night, as I walked across Dam Square to make it back to my hotel, I smelled the strong oder of wax burning and saw between 200 and 300 people starting to congregate a vigil of remembrance for the slain politician. Hundreds of candles were lit in his memory. The Vigil lasted for the next two nights.
As I read the Dutch papers and learned about this maverick, appealing, straight-talking politician, and compared the known facts against what was being printed in the American and British press about this leader, I became appalled.
American and British news sources continually referred to Fortuyn as a racist, neo-facist politician along the lines of Haider and Le Pen. They derided him, calling him “far-right“, frequently making sweeping, erroneous statements about his proposed policies and views, without providing any factual basis for them.
But what I heard and was reading locally did not jibe with what the British and American people were being told in the press. I was reading about an intelligent, tolerant, OPENLY GAY politician, who recognizing that the current state of Dutch politics was faltering and that flawed imigration policy was creating serious cultural divisions and large unacknowledged problems in Dutch society. He just wanted to rethink the open and liberal immigration policies as how it’s application was changing Dutch Society for the worse. In much the same way as the immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship are given courses on freedom, rights, laws, and their obligations as good citizens, Fortuyn wanted immimgration policies to address things such as, freedom of religion, women’s rights, tolerance and non-discrimination of homosexuals, BEFORE letting people into the country who’s views were incompatible with life in Dutch society. Do these sound like the policiesof a “far-right, neo-fascist”?
Having been abroad, I can vouch, The Netherlands is a small VERY DENSELY populated country. They are taking far MORE than their fair share of refugees from the Islamic countries, (so many as to put the U.S. to shame; even Canada outranks the U.S. in the number of refugees it accepts yearly) and it seems reasonable to make sure that immigrants they are letting in can live within the confines of the civil society they are entering.
On my return to the U.S., I took the time to explain to everyone that would listen how badly skewed the U.S. press coverage of international issues was, and told them the truth about Pim Fortuyn. Later, I found a moving insightful article written by Adam Curry, which does much greater justice to this event than I.
So in conclusion, at this point in my live I am again ashamed of this country, and many of the people who live in it. (Not all the people mind you, just the ignorant patriotic jingoists and intolerant isolationists) I am ashamed because of the eroding civil rights accorded by citizens, the increasing “big lie” police abuses where police can pretty much get away with anything by lying and putting particular statements in their police reports that they know will absolve them of any responsbility for their actions. Statements such as “he lunged for me after acting agressively”, or “he was agitated and continued to get close to me acting as if he as going to attack me”, or the ever popular “I was in fear for my life”, which seems to justify pretty any much any type of violent and abusive behavior on the part of police. They know the judges won’t hold them accountable, so they continue to act with impunity.
Here are some additional links, please use them, expand your knowledge of current affairs on a global scale, get involved in something you believe in, or do something to increase tolerance and openness in civil society. And think about forgoing war and violence as a means to solve differences between nations and groups.
- European Voice
- The Christian Science Monitor
- BBC News
- The Guardian UK
- Open Society Institute
- The November Coalition
- The American Civil Liberties Union
- The United Nations
Really, think about your politics or risk losing your freedom and rights. The dark ages CAN Return! ! !
Jay (now getting off his soapbox)