Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One Big Happy Family

Here’s a shock: the LAPD are reporting police abuses!

Not their own, of course. That’ll happen the same day pigs fly out my butt, put on a military air show over the city, and nobody watches.

But I’m still impressed. The LAPD are saying that police from at least four suburban cities have been spotted dropping homeless people in downtown Los Angeles. This annoys the LAPD, because not only is it a human rights violation, but it also makes more work for everybody. Heck, now they have to shove them all in a wagon and drive them back. What a pain.

Meanwhile, I don’t know of any claims that suburban police are dumping their homeless here in Emerald City. We have it so good. We don’t have any problems, our own police are wonderful and so are their colleagues in our neighboring cities. We are all one big happy family, we and our cops. I’ve always said, there’s nobody I like having be my friend more than a Seattle cop. Always said that.

That’s why I’m not happy to mention a little something that’s been going on outside my window once or twice a week every week for the last, oh I don’t know, maybe eight or nine weeks. It hasn’t been too long, no, I’m not complaining, really, I don’t need the sleep, really I don’t. A little something involving Seattle cops. Did I mention that I love cops? Everyone who’s ever been homeless loves cops. Please don’t hurt me.

So. There’ve been rumors for some time now that a homeless woman was found in a Seattle alley almost decapitated. I haven’t been able to confirm this rumor. But I am absolutely positive that the police care about the safety of all of Seattle’s homeless and relate to their fears.

So anyway, there were these rumors, and subsequently large numbers of homeless people started sleeping together, evidently for self-protection, out on the sidewalk, under my window, every night.

So, then, our beloved Seattle police, please don’t hurt me for saying this, started driving by in their big-ass cruisers and announcing over their bullhorns that those people had to disperse, because residents of my building (that would be me and people like me) didn’t want them there -- even though they weren’t bothering me, and I understood why they were there, and I hadn’t complained. Even though it’s legal to sleep on Seattle sidewalks after nine o’clock at night, and this was happening after midnight.

OK, I guess the cops heard a different drummer, as they say. I don’t know if it’s allowed for cops to listen to that different a drummer, but, like I say, we love our cops, and they always do us up right. Yay. Please don’t hurt me for saying the thing about the drummers.

But then a week ago last Saturday I was woken up by the bullhorns I didn’t ask for and I heard, apparently in answer to the question, “Where are we supposed to sleep?” the words “I’m not concerned about that, I’m concerned about the sidewalk.”

The sidewalk? They’re concerned about the sidewalk? Nobody’s decapitated a sidewalk. That was very confusing for me. Please don’t hurt me for being confused.

Finally, a few days later, I was woken up at 1:30 AM by this piece of advice by bullhorn: “If you people WANT to sleep outdoors, go to one of the parks [he suggested one here] and sleep there.”

At that I was really confused, because it IS illegal to sleep in the parks at night. Were our police trying to entrap people by ordering them to commit an illegal act so that they could then arrest them and deny having given the order? That would be wrong. But what else would induce police officers, WHO CARE ABOUT THE LAW, to order people to break it?

Well? Any answers? I’d appreciate hearing from Kerlikowske, the minute he can think of one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

No Cut-sies!

People are seeing silver linings in the Katrina disaster.

This is NOT ME saying this, this is Archbishop Paul Cordes, the Pope’s envoy bringing Vatican aid to Katrina victims: “… this event [brings with it] the hope, for many citizens, of seeing that the world is greater than the United States.” Alright! The world is Number One!

President Mugabe of Zimbabwe likewise finds hope in the disaster, in comparing his country’s circumstances to ours.

Actually, the number of people now homeless in Zimbabwe and living in squalid camps as a result of Mugabe’s interestingly named Operation Murambatsvina (Drive Out Trash) is on the order of the number of Americans made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. That, in a country less than one twenty-fifth the population of the US, makes the impact on Zimbabwe life of Murambatsvina equivalent to 25 Katrinas for us.

Still, after Katrina, Mugabe says his people are “very happy”, and all is well in the state of Zimbabwe, and he barred the UN homeless agency from helping his people, telling them instead to go to America and teach us Americans not to neglect ours.

By the way, Mugabe has repeatedly justified tearing down poor people’s shanties by pointing to American and European governments’ similar habit of bulldozing tent cities. If we can do it once, why can’t he do it a thousand times?

Meanwhile our own government has used the Katrina disaster to make our pre-existing homelessness vanish from the policy map. HUD has required local housing authorities everywhere to house Katrina victims in all available open housing, rather than people who were already homeless and on long frozen waiting lists, without saying “please.”

How about that? The homeless people who didn’t lose their homes to a 2005 hurricane starting with the letter K don’t count anymore! We don’t care how long you’ve been on a waiting list! What pre-existing homelessness?

Some have explained this by saying that the recently homeless Katrina victims can get on their feet faster than the “long-term” homeless, because they haven’t been homeless long enough to have become “difficult to house.” This is one of the finest crocks I have seen. It is proved to be a crock by the fact that HUD’s mandate doesn’t only apply to those homeless in the long-term, but also to people made homeless all across the country YESTERDAY, including victims of yesterday’s apartment fires.

I wouldn’t mind if we were talking about necessary triage here. If there were truly limited resources to solve homelessness than why not give priority on some arbitrary basis, like they did with the draft lottery? Instead of “all Katrina victims go to the front of the line,” how about “all homeless people born on a Saturday go to the front of the line,” or “age before beauty,” or “paper, rocks, scissors,” or “let’s make that two out of three?”

But it isn’t like that. The resources are there and they have been there for decades. No one needs to be homeless. We only have homelessness because this country has chosen to turn its back on it, for the sheer sake of esthetics.

For example, in Ocala, Florida, there were people living in a housing subdivision who offered to put up evacuees in their homes. HUD wouldn’t have to find housing for them! But when the housing association heard about it they enforced a rule against housing the homeless in the subdivision.

It would spoil the subdivision’s culture, you see. Why, next they’ll want to paint their houses purple.

Likewise the reason George Bush doesn’t want us to raise taxes to pay for either the Iraq War or hurricane cleanup boils down to esthetics: If the rich had to pay higher taxes, it would make this land a cesspit where most rich people could only afford one mansion apiece, and where their children might be forced to baby-sit to buy Nintendos.

That’s just plain ugly!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

An Embarrassment of Riches

Let’s say “embarras de richesses” too many times!

I’m going to talk about freedom of speech. But, who am I to make a fuss about freedom of speech, when I am so full of it? Look, I’m speaking right now, with printed words! Can you say “embarras de richesses?” I can’t! I don’t know how!

Nevertheless I know what it means. I exemplify it! For example this appears to be my 201st column. That means I have let my speech out to run freely 200 times just in this rag alone. Embarras de duck-licking! That doesn’t begin to count speaking incidents at bars, nightclubs, carnivals, and poultry farms.

No way though do I epitomize this sort of thing. For that look at the generic Washington State politician running for office.

In case you missed it, it’s again legal in this state for political candidates to lie about their opponents. For five or six years before last week it was against the law for candidates to lie about each other (they could lie about themselves all they wanted.) But now that law has been struck down because it violated the candidates’ freedom of speech to have their speech constrained by the truth.

When it comes to politicians, “it’s not that the truth shall set you free, but that the truth shall handcuff you to the bed and shall make you watch it model leather pants for hours, which is just plain naughty,” said the court, in effect.

So this state’s highest “embarras de richesses” award, in the Too Much Free Speech Category, goes to our hard-working politicians. Congratulations, guys and gals!

Now lets talk about people who can look forward to less freedom of speech in the near future. Gosh, let’s see, who might we be talking about? We can’t be talking about the politicians; we just said they can babble about anything. Could it be the rich? No, rich people can just buy full-page ads in the Seattle Weekly when they want to say something unpopular that needs to be protected by the First Amendment.

It would be poor people! Of course! Poor people living in buildings run by Seattle Housing Authority!

As reported in our last issue by Cydney Gillis, SHA was planning to prohibit residents of 28 buildings from putting signs (including flags!) in their windows. This was justified on the grounds that A) it would make the buildings prettier, and B) other apartment owners (commercial ones) prohibit the same.

YES, SHA, AND IF OTHER APARTMENT OWNERS JUMPED OFF A BRIDGE, WOULD YOU ALSO JUMP OFF A BRIDGE? Now, with that outburst out of the way, I am ready to delve deeper into this issue and calmly analyze one by one the validity of the two reasons offered for this rule.

In connection with reason A, Virginia Felton, SHA spokesperson, was quoted saying that “we’d like our public housing buildings not to look like college dorms.” Well, tough. The First Amendment is not preceded by a One-Halvesies Amendment that states, “SHA’s sense of esthetics shall not be violated.”

Reason B is trickier. Yes, commercial apartment owners insist that renters sign an agreement to accept such rules before allowing occupancy. And I notice that SHA plans to appear to act just as a commercial apartment owner would, by letting residents choose to either sign an agreement to comply or be evicted.

But that’s just a sham. Commercial apartment owners get away with such threats because the courts accept the myth, in their case, that the renters are free to negotiate or go elsewhere.

No such myth is functioning on SHA’s behalf. SHA knows, and the courts know, that their residents have no place else to go. The threat of an eviction that would result in homelessness to preserve a trite middle-class boneheaded esthetic standard is unjustifiable. So SHA needs to chill, go back to art college, and broaden its taste in the decorative arts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

When Foresight Was 20/20

George Bush on CNN about New Orleans: "They're facing problems that nobody could foresee: breaking of the levees and the whole dome thing over in New Orleans coming apart. People couldn't foresee that."

I’ve been trying to figure out that whole not-foreseeing thing. Please follow me as I attempt to unravel this one.

Naturally, when the Philadelphia Inquirer had an article last year about the danger to New Orleans of taking a hurricane hit head-on, George Bush ignored it. You can’t read newspapers that put the word “Inquirer” in their name. You do that with one, pretty soon you’re sliding down that slippery slope and the next thing you know you’re reading on a regular basis.

Could George have watched the in-depth report on the problem presented by the PBS show NOW with Bill Moyers in 2002? Daniel Zwerdling talked to scientists and community leaders about how New Orleans could be devastated in any year by a hurricane. Surely our President can have his people watch TV when something comes on that might be important?

No! He could not, not if Bill Moyers is involved. Besides, Zwerdling sounds like Nerdling. You know how sensitive our President is to being perceived as an intellectual. George “best tee-totaler to have a beer with” Bush can’t be seen as having even heard of PBS.

The same argument applies to the long 2001 article that appeared on the subject in Scientific American. Scientific American? What’s that? Some magazine for global-warming evolutionist stem-cell murdering crazies? Probable reaction: “Not my constituency.”

But then I found out that USA Today had warned of the danger even before that, in 2000! Help me! I cannot imagine how President Bush can say that something is unforeseeable when even USA Today could and did foresee it, five years ago!

Sure, Bush doesn’t read. He prefers to listen only to the single lone voice of God in his head, never to the billions of voices of God outside his head, the voices that his head and ears were presumably designed to listen to. But of all the thousands of people working in the executive branch directly under Bush, there isn’t one person he listens to that reads USA Today? What do they all read, cereal boxes?

Here are some more confusing comments about the New Orleans disaster. When it was suggested, as I have just done, that the administration had not done all it could do to prepare for this disaster, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan said, “This is not a time for finger-pointing or playing politics.” But, after changing channels, the very next thing I hear is Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a part of the executive branch of government (Bush’s branch), saying victims of Katrina were to blame for their own problems, for not heeding mandatory evacuation notices.

Excuse me, are we finger-pointing or aren’t we? We can point at victims but we can’t point at Bush? How about I point at this: the people who stayed behind were all the poorest people in the area and they received little to no assistance from FEMA to comply with those evacuation notices. Were they all supposed to have taken their private doctors along with them in Lear jets to Lanai to stay there until New Orleans is reassembled?

Well before Katrina hit, interstate buses leaving New Orleans were locked down.

Now I want to talk about the fact that Senator Trent Lott is homeless, too. As reported in the Seattle Times, Katrina leveled Lott’s 154 year-old Pascagoula home. The fact was mentioned by Bill Frist the next day as the Senate approved $10.5 billion in aid for areas affected by the hurricane.

Such aid may help rebuild Trent Lott’s house. I hope so, because, as I have always said, “If there’s just one homeless person in America, that’s one too many.”

Provided he takes responsibility for himself and goes out and gets a real job.