A manmade salmon stream or "vispassage," Hagestein, Holland. Click photos to view detail.
Now-defunct flood gates and waterworks at Hagestein.
During the holidays, I watched a film my daughter and I saw in London when she was a child. "The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is based on the C.S. Lewis children's book. The story features various moral dilemmas, pitting hope against fear; light against dark; good against evil.
As in every such film, there is a moment when the music swells; when the hero and his friends are in great jeopardy and all appears lost. The hero looks around for a lifeline, but no help is forthcoming. So he summons his courage and rushes in anyway. He does the right thing.
Heros and villains
For a long time, I believed certain politicians would do the right thing; that the moral imperative of elected public office took precedence over greed and power. Lately I have accepted that this was a naive concept, based purely on optimism. Yes, a handful of good men and women remain in public office, determined to help their constituents. But their numbers are dwindling. In the United States (and Great Britain), politics has become a cynical game or blood sport, funded by self-interested corporations and unholy business alliances empowered by Citizens United. This winner-take-all approach benefits only the wealthy 1 percent of the population, while problems of the 99% fester, gathering pace.
It's no wonder the OccupyWallStreet movement has garnered enthusiasm and widespread participation from diverse coalitions and Americans of all ages and faiths. Despite the often-heroic ongoing efforts of protesters in cities and communities worldwide, politicians remain largely dismissive of the Occupy movement. They don't want to hear about issues affecting ordinary people's lives. No, career politicians are much more interested in 1) courting the wealthy to fund their re-election campaigns and 2) saying anything - even if this means completely reversing course from previous statements and policy positions - to satisfy right-wing voters.
With few exceptions, Republican "Party of No" politicians have gone out of their way to erode environmental and consumer protections; to undermine or strip women's reproductive rights and dismantle education and road-and-bridge maintenance programs. In Alabama, inhumane anti-immigrant legislation has directly impacted even foreign business owners responsible for hundreds of local jobs.
Politics over principle
Worst of all, the woefully-ineffective US Congress seeded a defense bill - the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) - with draconian measures that would remove our habeas corpus rights. In effect this bill would allow the military to arrest and detain anyone suspected of "terrorism" ties or links without charge, legal representation or trial. Even the Bush administration, with all its human rights abuses, never attempted such an outrageous civil liberties grab.
The NDAA makes a mockery of justice, abolishing due process rights in a manner previously unseen in American government. President Obama - who is a Constitutional lawyer - promised he would veto a NDAA bill including such extreme measures. But like so many other promises publicly made and broken, he chose politics over principle and signed it anyway - on New Year's Eve, while the nation and the media were distracted.
His "signing statement" is a litany of excuses, suggesting 'I'm a nice guy, so don't worry.' Even if the president's claim - that he personally won't apply the NDAA to American citizens - is genuine, the law is enshrined for another president to enforce and/or abuse.
The American Civil Liberties Union said President Obama "will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law. The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.” Amnesty International has joined other human rights groups in condemning the NDAA measures that "could spell indefinite detention without a hearing, keep Guantanamo open and hinder fair trials."
The hope and expectation is that the NDAA will be challenged before the US Supreme Court and struck down as unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, legislation to undo the NDAA's extreme provisions. The act amends the Non-Detention Act of 1971, providing that Congressional authorization for the use of military force does not authorize indefinite detention—without charge or trial—of U.S. citizens who are apprehended domestically.