Flavin’s Corner    November 2003

Homeland Insecurity

And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars...
Apocalyptic prediction attributed to Jesus (Matthew 24:6).

Rockwell; 1943.Westinghouse Corp.; 1944. Images of "Rosie the Riveter" based on the 1942 song by Evans and Loeb.

Our nation’s color-coded Threat Advisory classification system, as invented and maintained by the post-9-11 established Department of Homeland Security (DHS), remains at yellow (elevated; significant risk of terrorist attacks).  If I could afford healthcare, a doctor would probably tell me that because of certain lifestyle choices and genetic disposition that I’m living with a significant risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and the odds are harsh that cancer will one day attack my lungs and prostate.  If I could afford to remarry, I’d be gambling with a statistically significant risk of yet another divorce.  I take terrorist threats seriously and proactively avoid nuclear power plants, military bases, obvious tourist traps which are easy targets and never join rallies of more than 100,000 or so protesters.  However, it’s not homeland security I’m most worried about, but rather homeland insecurity.  I suspect I’m not alone in being more afraid of corporate greed, corrupt politicians and American fundamentalists, than Saddam and Osama’s newly adopted shaved ape baby (as per the recent cover story in The Weekly World News).  On second thought, maybe I am alone.  Maybe we all are.  Yeah, my Homeland Insecurity level is off the charts and much of it concerns money (or rather the lack thereof.)

Many cultural groups have traditions which lament the passing of better times.  It’s commonly believed that Plato’s Atlantis proleptic and the Hebrew scriptural account of Solomon’s grandiose kingdom are examples of such “Golden Age” motifs.  In contemporary American parlance when the “good old days” are mentioned, images of World War II often come to mind.  Beer wasn’t subjected to a luxury tax, women were dames and okay with it, Nazis were the bad guys and bums were known as bums and not as the chronically unemployed and homeless.  I wasn’t alive at the time (I was born a dozen years after an end to major combat operations in the European and Pacific cineplexs and theaters) and must rely on the testimony of the pre-Baby Boomers, old b&w films and the print media. 

Though Roosevelt’s “a day which will live in infamy” speech given in reaction to Japan’s Dec. 7th bombing of Pearl Harbor began our official involvement in what was soon to become known as World War II (as well as the Dec. 11th declarations of war against us by Germany and Italy), everyone knew war was coming and many had long been actively lobbying for action.  Over a year and a half before, Superman acted upon the growing aggression of despots.  If only...

From "What If Superman Ended the War?" by Siegel and Shuster, Look Magazine, Feb. 27, 1940.

America’s entry into World War II must have been cathartic for some.  Timely (today’s Marvel) Comics introduced the star-spangled super-soldier, Captain America, in early 1941 and those monthly heroic exploits throughout the rest of that year featured the smashing of Nazi spy rings and prevention from saboteurs attempting to harm America’s infrastructure.  Life imitates art?  Approximately six months after Germany declared war on America, two groups of Nazi saboteurs covertly landed on American soil, one group at Long Island, New York and the other near Jacksonville, Florida.  One might conclude somewhat tritely that a broken clock is correct twice a day, some paranoids really do have enemies that are after them, few funny or comic books are laughable, all rumors are not inherently false and a little insecurity is probably a good thing. 

The earliest superhero fan-club, Timely (Marvel) Comics' "Sentinels of Liberty," 1941-1950,1954.

The American war effort from Dec. 8, 1941 through VE and VJ days are usually described as impressive and valiant.  Kids lied about their ages to enlist, mothers suffered rationing to feed their children, entertainers put their lucrative careers on hold to go fight the bad guys, and women took to the factories to replace the men who were at war.  How unlike Lysistrata!  But, was it really all that unique and righteous?  Doesn’t every nation at war endure the same hardships and make similar sacrifices?  Probably, but that was America’s time to shine and we may never (nor should we) encounter such unambiguous enemies again. [Note: I’m under the impression our government is still paying off the interest on various war-loans taken out from profiteering banks to finance equipment and munitions, but I haven’t followed up on this.  Any background would be appreciated.]

After the Sept. 11, 2001 highjackings of AA Flight 11 BOS-LAX (crashed into the north tower of the WTC), UA Flight 175 BOS-LAX (crashed into the south tower of the WTC), AA Flight 77 IAD-LAX (crashed into the Pentagon) and UA Flight 93 EWR-SFO (crashed in Pennsylvania near the town of Shanksville), America was jolted from complacency in a manner not dissimilar to the general outrage felt after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  We went to war.  Unfortunately, the war after 9-11 was declared against a concept (terrorism) and not a sovereign nation.  Sure, we drove the Taliban into the hills and later accomplished a so-called “regime change” in Iraq, but the conventional envisionment of one army facing another on a field of battle does not apply in this new war.  America is now engaged in something different from previous conflicts.

And, perhaps, with that “something different” in mind, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to oversee some 22 government agencies and ostensibly to make inter-agency cooperation easier and America a safer place.  It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  To fill the new cabinet position, Bush made a most interesting choice in former Gov. Thomas Joseph Ridge, R-Pa. 

Tom Ridge, at one time a leading contender for the Republican vice presidential nomination in the last election, shares many standard conservative views with the rest of his party.  He is on record for being against gay marriage, tough on crime, pushes for more prisons and greater use of the death penalty, supports school prayer, thinks all juveniles should be tried as adults, waffles on gun-control, thinks industries can clean up their own environmental messes, etc.  Typical Republican?  Not really.  Ridge separates himself from the Far Right by being pro-choice (despite being a Catholic) and actually served in Vietnam, rather than opting for stateside service or deferment.  A childhood illness damaged his hearing and his military service worsened it, requiring the use of a hearing-aid which he continues to wear.  He probably could have avoided Vietnam because of his hearing problem, but decided instead to serve his country, was awarded a Bronze Star, and went on to become a freshman Congressman in 1982 with another Vietnam veteran, John McCain, R-Ariz.

Many regard the Department of Homeland Security as ineffectual pseudo-patriotic propaganda and Ridge as little more than a nice-guy figurehead.  Recent DHS bragging has including helping out with the fires in California (through FEMA) and the arrest of dozens of janitors at Wal-Marts across the country, as well as "56 child predators and criminal alien sex offenders in the New York City metropolitan area" (through ICE).  And what does DHS do exactly?  Prevent terrorist attacks; I momentarily forgot.  Sure, the FBI and the CIA are usually expected to handle such things, but apparently they don’t share information fast enough (if at all).  That ABC’s Threat Matrix is shown opposite NBC’s Friends is proof positive that America can be vigilant and obtuse at the same time.  If Tom Ridge wants to continue to posture security for America, I wish him well.  However, Bush and some in his administration are generating insecurity and I feel that’s a threat to America.

Late last month figures were released for America’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the third-quarter of this year and there was apparent growth of 7.2 percent, up from 3.3 percent, the fastest from a previous quarter in nearly 20 years.  Economists had guessed a growth of 6 percent and many were pleasantly surprised by the higher number.  Bush and his peeps cited the recent controversial tax cuts for the upturn and gloated sound-bites for the evening news.  The next day the Commerce Department announced that consumer spending was down 0.3 percent in September, the largest drop in spending all year.  Few commented on this figure and everyone went back to talking about something else.

Whether voters will focus on Iraq or the economy next year could be an interesting debate if voters understood the topics better and hadn’t already committed themselves to backing their party’s candidate.  It’s Bush for the Republicans, of course, and as for what ticket the Democrats will try to sell at the upcoming Beantown convention, only the Delphic oracle knows.  As a Democrat, I must sadly admit to being bored with all of the candidates and am holding out with the hope that Kerry picks a major player like Gephardt, Clark or even Edwards for a running mate.  Dean might be a nice guy, probably shares the same views as me and many others, but recent comments about being a “metrosexual” without understanding the term and the confederate flag blunder leads me to strongly believe the doctor needs to get some rest, avoid microphones and cameras, and do something with the science he was taught.  [Note: Wishing in one hand:  1) Jimmy Carter out of retirement, 2) Bill Clinton with something done about the XXII Amendment, 3) Al Gore, 4) John McCain and 5) Hillary.  The other hand?  I’ll probably be too drunk to vote anyway.] 

Mistakes often get made in war, as exemplified by such army acronyms as snafu and fubar.  A wrong turn here, malfunctioning equipment, poor intelligence, or a command level limit on engagement and it’s nightly numbers on the news for those who saluted and died.  I am beginning to get worried that America has forgotten Patton’s advice: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”  I wish Patton could be with us now.

The economy?  A science fiction author once had a mini-stroke and believed the Roman Empire hadn’t ended and that the mid through late 1970s were apostolic times (Valis by Philip K. Dick; New York: Bantam, 1981).  Sometimes when I’m in my cups I see America as a collection of feudal states and the lords come out from their castles every now and then and throw us peasants a few presents.  The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.  Enron and WorldCom hurt Americans and who knows how many other companies still threaten us. Bush has his easy money, Cheney is made in the shade, and Powell maneuvered a grand (many times multiplied) exit from AOL.  The Bush administration seems to push programs and supports legislation which would increase the profits of businesses and institutions they favor, at the expense of the average American.  Fundamentalist bigotry, environmental exploitation, price-gouging and other Capitol Hill crony causes were discussed before Bush took office and he and his have had their way in front of the American people with little public complaint.  The kiss was the tax-cut.

And then there’s Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act.  I could never understand the many attempts to get laws passed against the burning of American flags in public.  Homeowners get fined for burning leaves on their property when they’re not supposed to, illegal or uncontrolled campfires are crimes akin to arson, and cookouts in designated areas only, please.  Damn, it’s hard to smoke a cigarette in most public places!  It’s against the law to burn anything in public without a permit.  I suspect the apparent redundancy of much of the Patriot Act has nothing to do with 9-11 or terrorism, but is just a ruse to circumvent the civil rights of those Americans who disagree with those in power.  I don’t expect the Patriot Act to last that long, but cars and homes are still being seized by those involved with even minor drug violations, three-strike laws are still sending non-violent criminals away for life, and it seems easier to get the goods on strip-club owners than find out who in the Bush administration committed treason, betrayed our country and revealed the name of a CIA operative.  There’s little, if anything, patriotic about the Patriot Act.

I don’t know if terrorists will hurt us again, but I do know we are hurting ourselves.  My homeland insecurity will likely continue for some time, at least until the peasants get better presents.  Free Tommy Chong!

shaking, but not yet stirred,

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