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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Join the Movement: Real Garments™ for Real People

Join me! I'm trying to start a new pseudo-scientific social fad: the Real Garments movement!

It's based on various forms of food faddism, only less likely to rot sans refrigeration. The idea is that all the mindless manual labor which our ancestors spent all of history trying to escape is actually beneficial for you, whereas letting modern machinery do your drudgework, like, cheapens your basic essential humanity somehow. So forget modern, impersonal, factory-made mass-produced clothing; you're not really "dressed" unless you're wearing clothes you made yourself, using your own spinning wheel to spin your own thread out of fibers from your own pet sheep or gardenful of flax or cotton plants, then weaving those threads into cloth with your own loom. (At some point in the process, you're also supposed to color this with your own dye, made by boiling bark or berries gathered from your own land.) Do what our ancestors did: be independent and self-sufficient, live a healthy, natural back-to-the-Earth lifestyle, spend years of repetitive labor producing a single piece of fabric, then drop dead by 35.

Also remember: every single member of the world medical and scientific community -- especially the ones who contradict the Real Garments bloggers and tell you that mass-produced clothing can be worn with no ill health effects -- is part of an insidious plot to make life worse than it currently is. To learn the truth, and raise yourself above the common run of "sheeple" [e.g., people clueless enough to think Dr. Jonas Salk knows more about medical science than Dr. Jennifer McCarthy] make sure you read the Real Garments blog! Or just give the Real Garmentsblogger some of your money.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014: what freedoms did our soldiers die to protect?

I know, I know, I've been neglecting this-here blog so badly, you'd be forgiven for thinking it is the constitution and I am the US government.

Some of this neglect is due to legitimately responsible grownup reasons: I've been spending the bulk of my weekday waking hours working as a consumer journalist, writing about the virtues of frugality or warning about the latest credit card hacker attack du jour. But when I'm finished work for the day and ready to turn my attention to matters political ... I burn out.

This is Memorial Day 2014, the day which (as various patriots keep reminding me) commemorates all the American soldiers who died to protect American freedom. This includes soldiers from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 (aka Revolution 2.0: when we said we don't wanna be Britons anymore, we meant it), the Civil War (Union side only), and World War Two.

But what about the many American soldiers who died for causes less noble than that of American freedom? Don't they deserve holidays too? I say they do, and offer a few suggestions:

Territorial Expansion Day: honoring the American soldiers who died in the Mexican and Spanish-American wars.

Resource Acquisition Day: honoring the Americans who died to ensure oil-exporting countries did so on terms favorable to us.

What The Hell Was THAT All About Day: honoring the Americans who died in World War One and Vietnam, plus our various blink-and-you'll-miss-it "humanitarian" interventions a la Somalia.

Treaty Obligations Are A Bitch Day: honoring the future Americans who will die defending Taiwan from the rapacity of the mainland Chinese. Not sure if the Korean War falls under this day or WTHWTAA Day, and I'm too lazy to look it up.

The Carpal Tunnel Hour: Only an hour because it's not worth a whole day; honors the front-line fighters in America's drone-bombing wars.

In all seriousness: what freedoms should we celebrate today? The one solid advancement on the personal freedom front lately is in the matter of gay rights: some time ago I stopped keeping track of just how many states have legalized gay marriage, but at the rate we're going I wouldn't be surprised if the Feds recognize it before the end of the decade.

That's a measurable improvement, but everything else is worse. As I type this, I can pretty much take for granted that the government has access to all of my private emails and phone conversations. Whistleblower Edward Snowden remains in lonely exile somewhere in Russia, and I am still a northern Virginia resident whose mood turns foul whenever I drive down a certain local highway and see the two glittering glass skyscrapers emblazoned with the name BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON, Snowden's former employer, given generous chunks of my tax dollars each year in exchange for spying on me.

The TSA's mandatory molestation policy is now in its fourth year of existence. American children whose parents take them on airplanes are raised to believe "Government agents have the right to see me naked or touch me in intimate places anytime they want, so long as they cite 'security' as an excuse." The children are raised to believe this is normal, and living in a free country does not include the freedom to decide for yourself who is and is not allowed to see and touch your naughty bits.

Over in California, twentysomething sociopath Elliot Rodgers murdered some attractive women because they wouldn't sleep with him, and also murdered some men presumably because women did sleep with them. Rodgers' parents knew he was about to snap and reported this to the police, who visited Rodgers at his apartment, had a friendly little chat and then left him alone.

His parents meant well, but calling the cops to report a possible upcoming murder spree was absolutely the wrong action for them to take. Here's how American law enforcement works in 2014: Anytime cops hear a rumor of possible drug use in a home -- even when the rumor turns out to be completely false -- they send a SWAT team in to raid the residence, and the innocent people killed by trigger-happy cops are considered acceptable collateral damage. The moral of the story is: if you think someone is a mass murderer, do not report this to the cops. Instead, tell them "I think he's selling dime bags of weed out of his apartment, and by the way: he and his family are waaaaay too poor to ever afford a lawyer."

Happy Memorial Day.

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