Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year (Good RIddance to the Old One)

I know better than to try making official “New Years’ resolutions” (and if I did, I’d know better than to put them in writing, let alone post them online).

Hence, I’ll not resolve to post here more often, or stop neglecting this-here blog as I have lately. I hope to post more; I just dare not resolve to. Things haven’t gone well for me and my household in 2014, so good riddance to that year and hopefully the new one will improve.

On the bright side, I’m gainfully employed, as a consumer writer, though I tend not to post my professional articles here because this is, at least in theory, a blog dedicated to liberty-themed sociopolitical whatever, rather than warnings about the latest consumer scam or complaints about the latest generation of Keurig coffee machines.

Still, the end of 2014 finds my household arguably worse off than the beginning of the year. My spouse lost his job early in 2014 and has yet to find a new one. My mother-in-law passed away relatively suddenly in November (no mother-in-law jokes here; she was far kinder to me than my own mother ever was). Yet my personal complaints are downright petty compared to the rest of the country. I’ve literally lost count of how many unarmed Americans have been killed by police officers since last summer.

Names like Tamir Rice and Eric Garner start blending together with those of other police victims; of course, the year 2014 kicked off with two police in Fullerton, California, being acquitted of killing Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man whom they beat to death. As with Rice and Garner, the policemen’s actions were caught on video. No matter; by 2014 it had been pretty much established that American police have the legal right to kill pretty much anybody they want, so long as they’re in uniform.

No trend continues forever, and I take heart from remembering that the various trends which made 2014 so horrible have to reverse sooner or later. I just hope it’s sooner. Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Vote-Shaming; or, How Virginia Democrats Dodged a Bullet Last Weekend

Election Day is tomorrow and, as usual, I won't be voting for anybody; I'll only be voting against various candidates who give me the screaming horrors. Tomorrow, that'll mean voting against various sex-obsessed social conservatives who think whatever ails America can be solved if only the government could force women to bear children they don't want, and force gays back into the closet. In other words: when there aren't any libertarian candidates, I'll be voting for the Jackass over the White Elephant Party.

Yet a boneheaded publicity stunt which the state Democratic Party mailed me last weekend made me mad enough to almost consider staying home. Check out the ridiculously oversized postcard which came in the mail for me last Saturday (I included the dollar bill to provide a sense of scale):

It's my unsolicited “Voter Report Card,” sent courtesy of and castigating me for having a voting history “below Virginia's average,” as records show I voted in the 2012 general election, but not those in 2010 or 2008.

Since the entire point of those “report cards” is to shame people into voting, I will only say: the Virginia Democrats are damned lucky I'm not the vindictive type, else I'd gladly find some Dem-hating right-wing lawyer to bring a nuisance lawsuit charging them with slandering my good character (civic duty edition): I did vote in 2008 and 2010; I just didn't vote in Virginia because I lived in Connecticut at the time.

In other words: those self-righteous busybodies tried shaming me for not committing voter fraud.

Although, to be fair: were I still in Connecticut, I'd be just as furious to receive a “voter report card” praising me for having voted in three out of the last three elections (not to mention that in 2008, I spent just under six days as a registered Republican so I could vote for Ron Paul in the primary. Spoiler: he didn't win).

On Saturday I left a message on one of the many various Virginia Democratic Party Facebook pages:

Friendly advice from a northern Virginia voter who does NOT want to see social conservatives win the election: kindly tell your buddies at to do their homework BEFORE sending out those insulting "voter report cards." I just got one castigating me for not having voted in the 2008 and 2010 general elections. Actually, I DID vote in those elections; I just didn't vote in Virginia because I didn't live here at the time. If you MUST insult people who'd previously been inclined to vote for you, at least try not to do it three days before the election; that doesn't leave enough time for voters to forget the insult.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mike Huckabee and the Modern GOP's [real] Goals

Mike Huckabee et al is freaking out and threatening to leave the GOP and take his supporters with him if the party doesn't put more focus on hating gay marriage and sexually active women who aren't ready to be mommies just yet. But do they actually think hitching their wagon to the gay-hating train is the way to win national-level elections in contemporary America?

New (serious) theory: the social-conservative national-level Republicans aren't even trying to win elections anymore; their goal is merely to win candidacies, so they can make stump speeches, get party financial backing and use that as a springboard to the lucrative lecture circuit.

Anecdote: in early 2008, when I got laid off from my alt-weekly job, I very briefly worked on a political [Congressional] campaign, but soon quit when I realized I'm not cut out for such work, even if it's a candidate I fully support.

This was the situation: 2008 election season when, you recall, the Republican Party brand name was extremely tainted, especially in Connecticut, which is a heavily Democratic state anyway. And in that particular district, in 2008, it had been exactly 50 years since the district had last sent a Republican to Congress. So: it's an anti-Republican district in an anti-Republican state at a time when even pro-Republican states were distancing themselves from the party brand, and I'm at this political meeting with the Republican town gadfly who wants to be a congressman and unseat a popular (though corrupt) incumbent, and I remember making some suggestion -- don't recall what, but it was definitely a "small government, personal liberty, fiscal conservative" suggestion, not a "social conservative sex-hating nutcase" idea -- but the party chairman said something like "That wouldn't play well to our base."

And I -- still naive enough to think they wanted actual advice on how to try winning this election, or at least give the incumbent a genuine challenge -- told him: "This district hasn't sent a Republican to Congress in half a century. I don't think your base is enough to win an election." Yikes. If I'd suggested the candidate make a point of publicly picking his nose at campaign appearances, that chairman could not have looked any more contemptuous than he already did.

The candidate lost, of course. That district remains firmly Democratic to this day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bar Mitzvah Day for 9/11

Thirteen years after the Haymarket bombings or Pearl Harbor attacks, Americans weren't still waving them around as a constant reminder for everybody to remain terrified enough to increase government power and abandon individual freedoms.

Why are we still doing this for 9/11? The attack is now old enough to qualify for adulthood under Jewish law, which is makes it waaaay too old to still justify any adrenalin-inspired lack of critical thinking abilities.

To offer an analogy: if something truly terrifying happens to you, scary enough that you literally piss your pants at that moment ... well, I won't necessarily think any less of you or your bodily self-control, because I understand that in moments of extreme stress and terror, such could happen to anybody. 

But if you're still pissing your pants about that terrifying event 13 years later, you need to consider the very real possibility that you're not a person with normal bladder control showing a reasonable response to an ongoing threat; you are frigging incontinent. And if you're still pissing on the Constitution 13 years later, the same thing applies.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Chick-Fil-A: An American Tragedy

Chick-Fil-A's founder died today – not Dan Cathy, the CEO who a couple of years ago turned the chain into the official chicken sandwich of homophobes, but Dan Cathy's father S. Truett Cathy.

When the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha started a couple years ago, the word “tragedy” kept springing to my mind — not the modern watered-down definition “Any story with a sad or unhappy ending,” but the original Greek-drama definition of the word: a “tragedy” is the story of a hero brought down not by external forces, but by his own fatal flaw (his hamartia). Because the thing about Chick-Fil-A is, except for the whole “sexual bigotry posing as piety” hamartia (a huge exception, I'll grant), it really does sound like a thoroughly admirable organization.

Their franchising system is unique. With most chain restaurants, buying a franchise is not a way for a poor person to get rich, but for a rich person to get richer: getting the licensing rights, building the actual restaurant, buying equipment and similar things mean that acquiring a fast-food franchise, even in a low-property-values area, can cost you over a million dollars out of pocket before you even start trying to make any money.

But with Chick-Fil-A (as of a couple years ago, when I read the article), you can buy a franchise for as little as $5,000. Not that you can just stroll up to CFA HQ, write a check for five grand and become a franchisee on demand – I gather you must work your way up through the CFA ranks, be personally approved by the Cathy family and what have you (and, presumably, have a mainstream married churchgoing hetero sex life) — but even so: it offers one of the very few paths nowadays for an American worker with little money and no formal credentials to start at the very bottom and work their way up to the top — without beating Powerball odds to do so.

And CFA donates lots of money to charities — not just the gay-bashing organizations for which it became notorious, but scholarship funds, food banks and various other “help-the-poor-kids” things ... if not for the hamartia of letting that hateful Leviticus crap contaminate their New Testament, loving-Jesus Christianity, it would be a company admirable in every way. Instead, I can't even bring myself to patronize the company, for fear someone will see me eating their sandwiches and think I'm there for more than just the food.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What will Ferguson's aftermath be?

It's no surprise to learn that many of the cops we saw misbehaving in Ferguson, Missouri have turned out to be somewhat psychopathic-- such as St. Louis County officer Dan Page, last seen shoving a CNN journalist on camera although what actually got him suspended from the force was an earlier speech he gave before an Oath Keepers meeting:

“I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, but I’m also a killer,” this 35-year police veteran said in the video. “I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I’ll kill a whole bunch more. If you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me. I have no problems with it. God did not raise me to be a coward.... I'm into diversity — I kill everybody. I don’t care.”

Or Matthew Pappert, who posted on his Facebook page that “These protesters should have been put down like a rabid dog the first night.”

Page and Pappert were easy to identify because they were arrogant enough to openly make such statements elsewhere. Actually identifying police on the ground in Ferguson has been difficult, since they stopped wearing their nametags or other forms of ID early in the protests.

What were the names of the police officers who fired tear gas and bean bags at TV news teams Wednesday night? Who operated the sound cannons that disoriented protestors before commanding them to disperse? The police don't think anyone has the right to know such things.

Luckily, somebody was able to identify the man who threatened to kill members of the media on camera; when asked his name he originally said “Go fuck yourself” although, as it turned out, his name was actually Ray Albers – a 20-year police veteran.

How many innocent people have Page, Pappert and Albers arrested over the course of their careers? Given how badly they misbehave when they know they're being filmed, what did they do off camera? The cops who fired tear gas and sound cannon — what other overreactions and escalations do they have under their belts?

Of course the protesters (peaceful or otherwise) and journalists weren't the only ones who suffered from the indiscriminate punishments police inflicted on the Ferguson's population; families in their own homes did too. Consider this opening paragraph from the story “The Ferguson Riots: Overkill – Police in a Missouri suburb demonstrate how not to quell a riot,” from the latest issue of The Economist:

NEARLY every night, Felicia Pope’s house fills with smoke and tear gas. Her four-month-old granddaughter has no idea why the air stings her throat. Her family feels trapped. But the protests outside over the death of Michael Brown, a local 18-year-old, show no sign of ending.

Not that Pope and her family were the only ones who suffered whle trapped in their own homes; police used plenty of teargas in residential neighborhoods, not just the business-district street where journalists were corraled most of the time.

That's America today. I'd like to think this will finally be the turning point (at least involving police misbehavior; the TSA and NSA are another matter) – the point when police departments have to give back their military-grade toys, the point when they'll be required to film themselves interacting with the public rather than continue having carte blanche to mistreat suspects pretty much any way they want, secure in the knowledge that in any case where it boils down to a cop's word over an ordinary individual's, the cop's word always takes precedence.

Though it would be unfair to single out Ferguson-area police for criminality; also this weekend came news that Oklahoma cop Daniel Ken Holtzclaw raped at least seven women while on duty, by threatening to arrest them if they refused to have sex with him. And of course: had they refused, and he arrested them, whatever lies Holtzclaw told to justify it would have been believed, despite the lack of evidence, because he's a cop.

All seven of his known victims were black, probably because he knew that black people make easier prey for predatory cops. (Not that being white makes you immune to police misbehavior.) The Economist's article also delved into the problems of police racism in Ferguson:
Ferguson is a small community—some 21,000 people live there—with a rapidly changing population. In 1990 it was 75% white; in 2010 it was 67% black. The police force has not adapted: it is 95% white and widely distrusted. The mayor, who is also white, has appeared clueless since Mr Brown’s shooting. He said in a television interview that there was no racial divide in Ferguson. That is not how many black residents see it. Stephan Hampton, for example, recalls that his grandfather was killed by police in 1984. He also remembers the date when the cops first stopped him: “May 26th, 2010”. Mr Webster remembers being stopped on his bicycle when he was 15; he adds: “I can’t count how many times I’ve been stopped since.”

In this context, “it is hard to point to anything that Ferguson police did [since Mr Brown’s shooting] that was not wrong,” says Gene O’Donnell of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. They left Mr Brown’s body on the street for four hours. They withheld the name of the officer who shot him. They confronted peaceful demonstrators and rioters alike with a stunning show of force—armoured cars with snipers on top—and precious little tact.

When I despair over the state of my country today, I console myself with the reminder that no trend lasts forever; sooner or later there will be a reversal. But when—soon enough for me to see it, let alone benefit by it?

The next few weeks will provide some hints, one way or the other. If you know any reasons for optimism, I'd surely like to hear them.

On the Road to Lake Anna

Jeff and I drove down to Lake Anna State Park to visit a friend today -- Anna is a man-made lake, dammed to provide coolant for a nuclear power plant. I did not know this until we entered the park and the first thing we saw was a sign informing all visitors that the Lake Anna Nuclear Plant is ten miles away, and in the event that you hear certain sirens and other sound effects, tune your radio to this emergency broadcast station and then kiss your ass good-bye. (Those weren't the exact words, but the meaning came through all the same.)

On the two-lane road leading to the state park we passed a few brick or stick-built houses and a much larger number of single- and double-wide trailers (on individual plots; not a trailer park). Most of those trailers were in decent, maintained shape, except for one ancient, rotting single-wide covered with enormous rust spots. I had ample time to study that trailer, because the road in front of it was temporarily blocked by a man backing a shiny new $40,000 Nissan SUV into its driveway. "Behold," I said to Jeff, "a maker of wise financial decisions."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson police declared war on Ferguson's people. Which city will be next?

Over the past few months, “American cops kill unarmed black person” has become the new “Local woman gives birth” – a headline appearing so often, you can't even keep track of all the stories unless you personally know one or more of the actors involved.

And over the past couple years, “Police declare war on entire city due to one man within” has also become commonplace: remember last year, when cops in California searching for Christopher Dorner forced people out of their homes at gunpoint, fired at random pickup trucks just in case Dorner might be inside one of them (he wasn't), surrounded entire stores and told the shoppers within that they were forbidden to leave? No warrants, no constitutional oversight, just cops flexing their authority muscles because they can.

Remember April 2013, when the entire city of Boston was put under house arrest while cops searched for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect? When I first heard that a Dunkin Donuts was the only city business open that day, I figured that must be an anti-cop joke – they're all a bunch of donut-suckers, ha ha ha – except it turned out to be absolutely true: the donut shops stayed open so cops could get their fried-pastry fix while performing warrantless searches of Bostonians' homes.

And then, just over a week ago, Americans learned about Ferguson, Missouri – a town whose overwhelmingly black population is overseen by an overwhelmingly white police force so corrupt, they've been known to beat an innocent man and then charge him with destruction of property for staining their uniforms with his blood – and two days before an 18-year-old named Michael Brown was supposed to start college, a Ferguson cop shot him dead in the street. The usual MO: cops swear he was a vicious criminal on the attack, witnesses say he was unarmed, had his hands in the air and was trying to surrender.

So the people of Ferguson took to the streets in protest, and the military was called out against them – sorry, I meant to say police with military-grade equipment including armored personnel carriers and other tools generally used by foreign occupying armies were called out against them.

Ferguson residents were tear-gassed while standing in their own fenced-in yards. The FAA declared a no-fly zone over the city – police craft can fly, but the media's not allowed to see what's going on there. Journalists were being arrested, then released without charge, for doing their jobs (were I a cynic, I'd say “It's as though the cops don't want anyone to witness what they're doing.” But surely I am wrong, for our own authorities so often assure us that privacy is unnecessary since only wrongdoers ever have anything to hide).

This morning I was up until about 2:30 (Eastern time) watching the Livestream video feed from Mike Brown at KARG Argus radio: the media were ordered not to leave the “staging area” on pain of arrest, so of course the video feed was limited to whatever was within camera range of that staging area just in front of a beige-brick McDonald's.

But even that limited line of sight showed plenty of horrors. I saw cops firing teargas cannons into distant crowds of peaceful nonviolent protestors whose only “crime” was being outside after midnight, in violation of the curfew imposed on the city. Then the cops fired temporarily blinding flashbomb cannons into the crowd; I lost count of how many after the sixth or seventh.  An armored vehicle pulled up near the staging area, and soldiers (sorry, “cops”) in body armor came pouring out and ran off-screen. Then the cops started using “sonic cannon” – noise-making machines designed to cause immense pain and disorientation to whoever hears them. At the same time these sonic cannon and blinding flashbombs were being used to disorient people, the cops announced that anyone who didn't leave and go home immediately would be arrested.

Then all the action happened off-screen: I watched journalists and cops milling around the “staging area” while sonic cannon (and possibly screams?) could be heard in the distance, and a radio announcer (presumably Mike Brown?) said that police were arresting protesters on another street – a street which no media has the right to film, a street Americans are not allowed to see, thanks to the no-fly zone and the designated staging area and similar authoritarian diktats. More teargas fired into crowds. More sonic cannon shattering the night air. In the United States of America.

I will not dare to predict what will happen next, in Ferguson and throughout the country; I'd love to think “This'll be the last straw, this'll start the pushback; Americans have had enough tyranny in the name of security and now things will change for the better.” Except, if you're a longtime reader of this blog, you probably recall all the times I made similar predictions before, and every damned one of them turned out wrong. “TSA demands the right to sexually molest you before a flight? Surely my fellow Americans won't put up with this … oh, dammit, yes they will.”

Still: as bad as things are, they could always be worse. Missouri's senator Claire McCaskill at least had sense enough to say “We need to de-militarize this situation—this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”

Meanwhile, in the alternate universe where Todd Akin never said anything abut “legitimate rape” and thus managed to win that senatorial election, Sen. Akin released a statement expressing support for the brave police of Ferguson, Missouri and pointed out that when legitimately innocent people get shot by cops, their bodies have ways of shutting the whole thing down.

Ferguson will be under curfew again tonight. I suppose the police are re-stocking their supplies of teargas and flashbombs, too.

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