Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Patriot (Act) Game, Or Where Being Stupid Can Get You Elected

Years ago, when I as a Peace Corps volunteer in East Africa, many of my secondary school students believed that it was not safe to walk around outside at night in the remote border area where our boarding school was located.  Thieves would come, they believed, from neighboring Congo, club them and drain all their blood so that they could carry it back in buckets to sell to hospitals in war-torn Congo, leaving their lifeless corpses in the bush along the road.

It was a fervent belief, based upon nothing at all.  Still, the belief spread like wildfire through the school dorms.  No amount of faculty persuading would convince them otherwise.  Facts were irrelevant. They preferred to remain ignorant, since a good scare is always popular with young males the world over. (Witness the success of the Freddie Kruger/ Chain Saw Massacre movies...)

Forward to many years later ...

On the morning of 11 September 2001, we left our motel in Ohio with a vanload of books and maps and headed west toward Peoria, Illinois, en route to the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Davenport, Iowa.  As usual, we used the time in the van to discuss all manner of things, both business and personal.

The whole time we were on the road, we never thought to turn the radio on.  We were oblivious to what was going on in the world that day.

By midday, as we drove along country roads through Ohio and Indiana, we noticed long lines at gas stations.  Some even had local sheriff’s deputies directing traffic. Otherwise, there was nearly no traffic on the roads. It seemed exceedingly strange for a weekday, even in the small-town rural Midwest.  As I said, we were oblivious to the events of the day.

When we got to Peoria around 5 PM, there were long gas lines at every station.  As I checked into the hotel, I asked the clerk, “What’s with all the gas lines?”  She pointed to the TV. The World Trade Center Towers were falling down. Over and over again.

Several years later, when I worked as a program administrator for the NYS Department of Health, there was much talk about first responder illnesses that seemed to be related to 9/11.  Firemen, EMTs and NYC police were getting sick, mostly with a host of respiratory illnesses.  Studies were done.  It was obvious that the illnesses were related to the exposure to 9/11 toxins.   

Of course, some first responders didn’t get sick years later. 

By then, they were already long dead, their bodies forever joined with the remains of the fallen towers.

These men and women were the heroes of 9/11; the men and women upon whose fallen backs former NYC mayor Rudy Guliani built his “America’s Mayor” political reputation … as well as a highly lucrative consulting company.

Last fall, a 9/11 first responders health bill – designed to ensure that those on the front lines of response would be taken care of medically, no matter what - finally worked it way through Congress, after a long period of endless and needless discussion and despite Republican attempts to attach anti-abortion riders to it.  The bill was known as the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Law” and it finally got passed.

Finally.  But, not cleanly.

Thanks to Republican Cliff Stearns, representative from Florida’s 6th Congressional District, it got a rider attached to it now known as the “Stearns amendment”.  You can read it for yourself here

A paragraph inserted in the bill now reads:

No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as an eligible WTC responder.  Before enrolling any individual as a WTC responder in the WTC program under paragraph (3), the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

Shortly, first responders will be informed by letter that their names, addresses, dates of birth and other identifying data will be turned over to the Feds so that it can be determined that they are not listed on the terrorist watch list.

If you need an example of the old saw, “adding insult to injury”, this just might be it.

Cliff Stearns has been the Republican representative from central Florida since 1988.  Since he wins with more than 60% of the vote every two years, he obviously represents the feelings of the majority of his constituents. 

These good people in central Florida apparently share his feeling that some terrorists ran into the burning and collapsing World Trade Center Towers in 2001 so that, at some point more than 10 years in the future, they could get free medical care for their debilitating illnesses. 

Next thing you know, they’ll want the Florida legislature to pass a law guaranteeing that sharia law can never become law in Florida.  After all, you just never know about these things.  Better safe than sorry.  Check under your bed for terrorists and all that.  Never let facts get in the way.

I’m the product of many, many years of Catholic school education, where school uniforms, rigid classroom discipline and classes in moral theology and ethics were the norm.  One of the things we learned early on was the difference between “vincible ignorance” and “invincible ignorance.”  (We were big into Scholastic philosophy, Thomas Aquinas and that sort of thing)

Invincible ignorance, we were taught, was being ignorant of something because there was no one around to teach it to you or no sources to learn it from.  In other words, if you grew up on some remote island in the South Pacific in 900 AD, there’s no way you could have learned about Christianity or any of the other Middle Eastern desert religions.  You were “invincibly ignorant” and would not be held responsible for not knowing. 

If, however, you had the opportunity to learn the truth of something but willfully chose to ignore it (say, you were a high school kid in upstate NY in the early ‘60s or a boarding school student in East Africa some years later), you were “vincibly ignorant.”  In other words, you were purposefully stupid and it was your own fault – you were responsible and needed to shoulder the consequences of your own stupidity

We were taught to avoid vincible ignorance at all costs, there being no merit in willful and voluntary stupidity.  Apparently, however, Cliff Stearns never took a class like that. 

Moreover, now it is abundantly clear that vincible ignorance can get you elected in Florida.

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