Sunday, November 23, 2014

Unfair sentencing

 
Iowa Congressional Representative Bruce Braley, a tone-deaf and entirely ineffectual political campaigner, got trounced by a baffoon, Joni Ernst, in his race for the U.S. Senate earlier this month. Among other missteps, Braley had been captured on video earlier in the year warning a gathering of trial lawyers in Texas that, if the Democrats lost control of the Senate, Senator Charles Grassley (above) from Iowa would become the first-ever head of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee that did not hold a law degree. According to Braley's speech, Grassley was only “a farmer.” Months later, the farmers drove their pick-ups to the polls and voted with their pitchforks.

Well, for what it’s worth, Grassley will now ascend to that committee position, and he looks to be the solitary roadblock to the righteous cause of mandatory sentencing reform. There's an amelioration bill in the Senate that has 30 co-sponsors, the backing of both the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation and everybody from Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin on the left to Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul on the right.

Grassley will be the one that decides what gets considered and what doesn't. He delivered this speech on the Senate floor in favor of mandatory sentencing in May, and since the election, has made another brief statement reaffirming his long-time support for 1980's-era drug policy, "I've raised concerns about people importing heroin into the country, of having their sentence reduced. I think you gotta be very careful what sort of signal you're sending."

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Bill Cosby's mountain of a television series, The Cosby Show, has had its reruns pulled from the TV Land programming lineup upon the resurfacing of rape accusations against the comedian. (You might want to attend this year’s Moeller TV Festival on December 6th if you're interested in watching an episode of the series.) Suppression is cyclical because Cosby, during the late 1960s, fronted a petition group aimed at getting re-runs of the popular but controversial TV series Amos & Andy removed from syndication. (The series was popular with both black and white audiences. With an all-black cast, it was nominated for an Emmy as Best Sitcom in 1953.) By 1970, the show, which depicted negative stereotypes about African-Americans, was gone from the airwaves, never to return. CBS continues to own the rights to the series, but has not authorized an official DVD release while the media company vigorously fights to curb bootleg releases through mail order. (You can see full episodes on YouTube.)

Would a comedy about silly, broad characters like Amos & Andy be more offensive to blacks than, say, The Honeymooners would be to whites? Clarence Page asked this question in 1985. Most criticisms of the series at the time seem to center, ultimately, not on the series itself, but on the fact that there was nothing else on the air at the time to counterbalance it. It's worth remembering an interview Cosby did with Playboy in 1969 when he was very critical of the Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams series. When asked whether there could be a TV series about a non-stereotypical black family, he responded in part...

"If you're really going to do a series about a black family, you're going to have to bring out the heavy; and who is the heavy but the white bigot? This would be very painful for most whites to see, a show that talks about the white man and puts him down. It would strike indifferent whites as dangerous; it would be called controversial and they would not want to tune in."

All in the Family, the Norman Lear situation comedy about a white bigot, debuted less than two years later, and was the #1 rated series from 1971 to 1976.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Riots! Riots! Run for cover!

African-Americans and Americans of good conscience should be insulted by the theatrics and public hysteria being whipped up by the Democratic governor of Missouri and the Democratic mayor of St. Louis. The chief executive of one of the nation’s most segregated states, Jay Nixon, has been keeping up a constant stream of rhetoric promoting his administration’s preparation for race riots that he thinks are going to erupt upon the inevitable Grand Jury acquittal of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Nixon has preemptively ordered a state of emergency and Ferguson residents have responded by stockpiling guns. Mayor Francis Slay has ordered 400 National Guard troops deployed throughout the city of St. Louis-- in addition to the troops that are already being ordered to Ferguson. The state chapter of the Ku Klux Klan has vowed its support against an uprising as well.

The implication, in case it’s too subtle for you, is that the Ferguson protestors are incapable of peaceful demonstration against injustice. They are wild animals that require the restraint of a fascist state paramilitary strike force. Peaceful demonstration in Ferguson has already been met with the same this summer even though the protestors demonstrated remarkable restraint in the face of the kind of confrontational, excessive, and targeted policing that has drawn the ire of the United States Department of Justice, the type of brutality that had been demonstrated towards Michael Brown

To catch you up, this is what's gone down. The white police officer, Wilson, shoots the unarmed 18-year-old black man running away from him, Brown, and kills him. Brown's body remains at the scene, uncovered, for several hours. A day later, the Ferguson police still provide only minimal information about the shooting. Wilson disappears the day of, and has been hidden away from public view during the three months since. (Publicly-expressed fears for "Wilson's safety" by police are another insult to Brown's friends and family and the protestors.) Within 24 hours of the shooting, local police are in riot gear with military-grade weapons and armored trucks on the street. Police use rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful demonstrators, a violation of international human rights law and part of the reason that Brown's family appeared earlier this month before a gathering of the United Nations.

Two days after, still no release of the officer's name, even though he's admittedly safe in hiding. The FAA bans flight traffic over the Ferguson area, and we find out later that it's ordered by police to keep media away from the scene of the crime and the protests. Ferguson police continue to take to the streets in riot gear nightly and have their names removed from their uniforms and refuse to identify themselves to the people they are policing. Reporters from al Jazeera America are hit with tear gas while preparing a broadcast and have their equipment confiscated by police. Reporters from both the Washington Post and Huffington Post are arrested for refusing to leave a fast food restaurant "fast enough." A St. Louis city alderman, Antonio French, while documenting the protests and police action, is arrested on the scene and spends a night in jail, even though no charges ever come against him. Other protestors are arrested for "manner of walking," which-- hopefully this won't surprise you-- is not a crime.

About a week after the shooting, the officer's name is finally released but with no details at all about the shooting. Instead, it's released along with video of Brown allegedly committing an unarmed robbery prior to the shooting. MSNBC television anchor Chris Hayes is threatened by police with mace, CNN's Don Lemon is shoved by an officer, and a journalist from Argus Radio is warned by an officer to turn off his camera light or else he will be "shelled." An officer is caught on camera shouting at protestors, "Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!"

A full week after, the public defaming of Brown continues. An anonymous leak comes from police that Brown had marijuana in his system according to his as-yet-unreleased autopsy. Nixon first calls in the National Guard and refuses to remove from the case a county prosecutor with strong ties to police whose father, an officer, was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect. Another video from the nightly protests reveals an officer shouting at the crowd, "I will fucking kill you."

About two weeks after, the Ferguson police chief says he released the video of the alleged robbery because of numerous media requests, but public records show there had been none. What there had been was numerous requests for records about the shooting, which the chief still refused to release at the time. The Department of Justice opens its investigation against the police and the police use that investigation as a further excuse to violate media "sunshine" laws and to arrest protestors. What the news organizations have been able to determine is that the Ferguson Police Department never did an accident report about the shooting. If Wilson refused to file an accident report, it would be grounds for immediate firing. The law requires him to do so, even if it implicates him in a crime. (It's also, of course, fucking suspicious.) The failure of somebody in the department to abide by open records laws is itself a misdemeanor, carrying a large fine, and punishable by up to a year in prison.

Will there be justice for Brown? We already know there won't be. It's been obstructed from the very beginning, as the details above should ably demonstrate. Any potential evidence that could hold Wilson accountable for his actions has been shielded. Is this the way they fucked over Michael Brown or is this the way they fuck over everybody? It's the justice system we're dealing with in this case. The police's version of the truth certainly can't be trusted. They've shown no interest at all in getting at the truth. All we've seen is one act of fear after another on behalf of the city and state's army of white privilege. Nixon and Slay's recent publicity-oriented actions are more of the same. And this is what I meant earlier when I said that protestors, and the men and women of Mike Brown's community, have shown nothing but remarkable restraint. The head "white guys in charge," clearly in over their heads, keep playing the riot card to drum up support among the white community for Gestapo policing.

Dr. King, a true leader, regretted the turmoil that boiled over in Newark and Detroit in 1967, but he knew it was the corrosive and failing acts of the police state that led to it. He reminded us that we "cannot have white affluence amid black poverty and have racial harmony." He wasn't interested in headlines that promoted the security of some over the rights of all, of stripping the dignity of the least fortunate to offer an inauthentic feeling of stability to the lucky possessors of privilege. He knew the source of the people's rage, and he respected it. He knew that the protestors against injustice, then as now, were the adults in the room.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Operation Infinite Reach

Around the turn of the most recent century, a United States president took the initiative to drop bombs on innocents in far-away, underdeveloped, and otherwise-inconsequential countries. The readily available and relevant intelligence had been gathered and then alternately discarded or ginned up, as needed. A pretense to war was invented and promoted publicly. Inspections and solutions of diplomacy were omitted. The threat, we were told, demanded undelayed action as the target was a manifestation of pure evil on Earth-- Osama bin Laden. Now you might be surprised to find out that the president I’m referring to that tackled this opportunity to spill blood through a tale of dissimulation was not George W. Bush.

His name was William Jefferson Clinton, the year was 1998, and the civilian commander-in-chief of our military had just been accurately accused of engaging in a sexual affair with an office subordinate, an affair that had taken place in the West Wing. In its aftermath, Clinton had one of his fixers place the woman in a well-compensated corporate job (Revlon) to rid himself of her presence.

Clinton’s previous modus operandi-- after getting caught manipulating (Gennifer Flowers), harassing (Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones), and raping (Juanita Broaddrick) women in his employ or his immediate purview was to deny the accusations and defame the accusers. By '98, the year that the name of this White House subordinate, Monica Lewinsky, would become forever famous, the White House had an entire SWAT team dedicated to the bullying and character assassination of female nobodies. But silly Monica, whom Bill and Hillary Clinton both implied was a stalker (the pro-woman First Lady's phrase of choice was "narcissistic loony toon"), had done something that the White House team never counted on. She saved the dress that had the POTUS seed spilled on it as evidence, and in an act of self-defense, she had neglected to wash it. The failed state of Clinton’s personal character was finally going to lead to tragic political and legal repercussions and William Shakespeare wasn’t even alive to see it.

So on the day that Lewinsky testified before a grand jury, August 20th, Clinton's military bombed a pharmaceutical factory in the suburbs of Khartoum, Sudan, East Africa. Medicine produced at that factory, including anti-malaria chloroquine, provided more than 60% of the total human and veterinary medicines consumed in one of the poorest countries on the globe.

It was almost immediately conceded by the Defense Department that the plant had no link whatsoever to bin Laden, not financially or otherwise. A forensic investigation of the destroyed plant revealed no toxicity, no trace of any substance other than standard pharmaceutical materials. The government of Sudan enjoyed diplomatic status with the United States, but was not given any advance warning of the bombing. Time was too precious for such formalities as inspections or even formal demands. If bin Laden was being sheltered in Sudan, why couldn't his release be negotiated? The same government, earlier, had extradited the famous terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, upon negotiations with the French government.

One plant worker was killed in the bombing, 11 more were wounded, and many others lost their employment, their direct or interconnected livelihoods, and their access to medicine. Noam Chomsky has estimated the numbers of those indirectly killed to be, possibly, in the tens of thousands. They are only more men, women, and babies whose lives don’t matter to the megalomaniacal leaders of the United States whether Democrat or Republican. If you’re of age, you may remember that at this point in our military history, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk started referring to the incident as Clinton’s bombing of an “aspirin factory.”

Before 1998 was over, Clinton's military had dropped cruise missiles on Afghanistan and Iraq also. None succeeded in hitting suspects. The U.S. president didn't wait around here either for the support of the United Nations, Russia, China, or France so it won't surprise you to know that he didn't get it. But that wasn't the purpose. Unlike his successors, Bush and Obama, who bombed these same two countries later with intent to maximize human suffering, Clinton’s mission was simply to distract, to keep his poll numbers afloat during the his most trying year.

Despite the many admissions to the contrary, there has still been no apology to Sudan from the United States government. Clinton's Secretary of Defense at the time, William Cohen, still slipped-- I'm assuming-- when he referred to the Khartoum factory, Al-Shifa, as a "WMD-related facility" before the 9/11 Commission in 2004. By then, the allusion was to a different world, a pre-9/11 world. In those wonder years of the Bubba Clinton presidency, lesser crimes needed to be avenged, fewer corpses were needed, along with fewer justifications. What else about it can we surmise? It was a simpler time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Upon the 96th anniversary of the Armistice

 
 Every act of creation is an act of destruction, and the United States Congress realized that when they changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day during the height of the "Red Scare" in 1954.

Armistice Day was-- and is-- sacred. A day that commemorates peace. A day shared by all of humanity. A reminder of the folly of war. We are only four years away from the 100th anniversary of the signed agreement that ended World War I, a conflict that could originally be called the Great War. In France and Belgium, where much of the war on the "Western front" was fought, the day is notably still referred to as Armistice Day.

Veterans Day, rather, is a dishonor to the almost 18 million humans that lost their lives in the Great War and the 23 million more that were maimed or wounded. They gave their lives, and the day that ended the fighting is now a day in the United States that is covered with syrup. It's a day for sloganeering and empty or even cross-purposed sentiment. A day for fake idolizing intended to mask the uneven sacrifices that families have made. It's a day designed to choke political dissent, a day to promote the nationalism, chauvinism, and totalitarianism that caused the Great War. I won't celebrate it.

Veterans Day is not a day for heroes. It's a day for celebrating a military culture and the American empire, neither of which is heroic. Our freedoms are in danger today, but not from threats that lie outside our borders. They're threatened by these people that wrap themselves in the flag, hysterical citizens that wish to dissuade intelligent critique of conflict and promote deference to power, the type of people that gave us Veterans Day. The heroes of unheroic wars are not the people that fight the war. Those men and women are victims, dead mice to be gnawed at by the proverbial cat that is the state-corporate complex. Real heroes are the men and women that oppose unheroic wars.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Death at home

A monumental and historic crime is committed. Thousands are killed, and the lives of tens of thousands of others tragically and irreparably changed. The highest court of one of the most populous nations on Earth finds the man responsible guilty of the crime and takes him into custody, but he skips out on a $2,100 bail and another country agrees to provide a safe haven for the fugitive. He eventually dies peacefully of old age in a nursing home three decades after the crime took place. So private has his life in sanctuary become that news of his death takes a month to hit the mainstream news media. Public records expose his death after his family chooses not to publicize it.

The man's name was Warren Anderson, and the country that protected him until his death on September 29th was his own, the United States of America. Anderson was the chairman and CEO of Union Carbide Corp. in 1984 when a gas leak at the company's pesticide plant in Bhopal, India took the lives immediately of at least 3,787 people, and certainly thousands more from long-term illnesses over the ensuing years.

The Bhopal tragedy is representative of a legal system that renders justice against nation-less and border-less global corporations nearly impossible. Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of napalm king Dow Chemical, did much of its business- it's dirtiest business- in a state that it did not call home. Its negligence, well-documented, in attempting to cut costs and failing to train workers or maintain a decaying facility at even basic safety and environmental standards, speaks to a two-tiered justice system that is as border-less as Dow Chemical.

Thanks to WikiLeaks, the global community is now aware of additional crimes. The 2012 Stratfor leak-- which resulted in the publication of more than five million of the private security company's email messages-- revealed that Dow employed Stratfor to spy on the personal and public lives of activists involved in the Bhopal case. Stratfor publicly condemned the leaks, but both Stratfor and Dow have refused to either confirm or deny the accuracy of the information.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Your vote and your valuable time


 
Go ahead and vote if you must. See how that works out for you, supporting the lesser of two evils for the umpteenth time as the center moves further and further away from you. Maybe you've heard the expression: When you find that you're in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. By voting, you're actually betraying what I'm certain is the most powerfully-honest political feeling you own right now-- dissatisfaction.

The Democratic Party, the graveyard of progressive ideals, is so lacking this time around of both a resonant message or any successful record of governance or advocacy that they've resorted to posting unrelated celebrity GIFs online to try to shame young people into voting. What an insult to our intelligence. The Democrats destroyed the anti-war coalition, then the anti-Wall Street coalition. They gave bipartisan cover instead to unceasing war and an Orwellian police and prison state. They've demonstrated that they can't be trusted with the leadership of any individual progressive cause, and so certainly they shouldn't be trusted with your vote.

Young people are much-maligned as a voting bloc, but they're actually the most savvy voting demographic in the country. You can't lie to them as easily. It's clear that a majority of them plan to stay home tomorrow, and that makes perfect sense if we pause for a moment to stop being frustrated with their "inaction." If it mattered to their self-interest, they would vote. Why wouldn't they? You can persuade the old folks to surrender their most deeply-held beliefs armed with only a naked and geriatric appeal to party loyalty, but that line don't work so much on the sprouts. Individual thought is still novel. They're still part of, or fresh out of, an educational system that harps on achievement, equality, and fair evaluation so they're highly attuned to these concepts. It's harder to convince them to vacantly offer up support for a corrupt and indefensible system.

I'll fight anybody that says different. Democracy arguably made a nice go of it for awhile, but it only led to a more responsive government. The plutocracy was forced to take back its toy. Only a mirage of it remains. Activism and agitation have become more essential, as a result. Those have always been the true building-- and re-building-- blocks of democracy. Voting for the plutocracy's vetted candidates, on the other hand, is something else entirely. It's a waste of one's time. As the saying goes, it only encourages them.

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Accused cop killer Eric Frein was apprehended in Pennsylvania last week after a 48-day search. The whereabouts of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson are still unknown.

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This is a yard display depicting the lynching of a black family. It was on federal property at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Shades of the Ferguson, Missouri police department, it appears that it's going to take protest pressure to get the name of the offending, active-duty soldier released.

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"If voting made a difference, it would be illegal." - Daniel J. Berrigan S.J.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bumgarner Country

  
Madison Bumgarner is a World Series pitching hero hailing from North Carolina that lives with his wife at home in Dudley Shoals next to a body of water called Gunpowder Creek. Also, his father says things to the New York Times about his son like "I didn't know if he had enough left tonight, but I did know that boy would try to steal a steak off the devil's plate."

Daddy Bumgarner also proved the National League bona fides of his blood line to the Times with this line about his son, "He could hit better."

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That's six out of the last nine championships claimed by the Senior Circuit, and four of the last five.

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These photos from Oscar Taveras' funeral in the Dominican Republic. Not at all fair. Rest in Peace.

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Why are we still considering this fossilized group of baseball "very goods" for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame when there's a backlogged Murderers' Row of "greats" on the writers' ballot? (Billy Pierce in before Bonds or Clemens? Really?) I swear that this country's first and most important Hall of Fame has been hijacked from Generation X and Y by the Baby Boomers.

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Catch me following a sport in which team success is measured by polls. Especially a sport in which the biggest sports network on the planet (ESPN) now owns one of the just-launched conference television networks. There's a reason Major League Baseball fans always follow the standings, and never debate the "ESPN Power Rankings" of the same clubs.

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A quote by Frederick Douglass found in Curt Flood's 1970 autobiography "The Way It Is": "Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground." Douglass could be speaking directly to today's residents of Flood's adopted hometown, St. Louis.

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Come to think of it, Flood would make one hell of a baseball Hall of Famer.