Nuance, Context and other quaint notions

There are knee jerks that are almost impossible to resist.   Those knee jerks, now amplified and encouraged by our own private on-line and mass media cheering sections,  rule our world today, certainly our politics.  Right is right and evil is evil and if you try to defend evil I will swat that shit away and wag my finger like Dikembe Motumbo under the basket, as your shot winds up in the third row.   Don’t try that shit in my house!

When I hear somebody say that  God told them to do something, and that thing is bombing a water filtration plant and hospital in a far away land (because the dictator of that land is a modern-day Hitler), causing children to die along with their elders, my knee jerks.  That kid in Florida, Trayvon Martin, when the vigilante with the gun stopped him, whatever the guy with the gun may have said to him, why didn’t the black kid just say “yes, sir.  I’m up from Miami, visiting my family, sir” and get to live another day?  Knee jerk.   When the president does what he’s on record as saying his predecessor was an idiot for considering…. boing, there goes the knee.

Flash the cards, there is no shortage of them.  Abortion: murder of a human soul or a hard choice in a situation where an unwanted child will otherwise come into the world to live a life nobody would wish on it     If you believe God said abortion is murder, that’s the end of the story, bub.  It’s murder if the fetus was put in a thirteen year old’s womb by a rapist, or by the coercion of a sleazy, criminal relative.  Murder if they held the girl down and took turns punching her and raping her.  Murder because, every soul was created by God and the soul comes into being at the moment of conception, because God loves every soul.  

True believers are hard to have a conversation with.  There are no facts you can put forth that will allow them to see things from another perspective.  I’m not singling out hypocritical Christians, doggedly defending the rights of fetuses while letting the little unwanted newborn fuckers fend for themselves.   I am just using rigid religiosity to illustrate this larger point about belief that is impervious to discussion, nuance or context.  We all believe what we believe and we justify those beliefs according to our ability to rationalize.    

I am floundering today, as I try to make this vague yet obvious point clear.  If we omit nuance and context in a discussion, we are just talking opinionated shit at each other. Nuance is the first casualty of absolute moral certainty, any sense of a larger context is killed at the same time.  Not to say there aren’t principles worth fighting for– personal integrity is one, it seems to me, but even there, choosing your battles is very important.  This black and white, red and blue, us and them world we live in is the divided, divisive hell it is for many reasons.  High on the list is a massive failure to acknowledge nuance and context, particularly on the other side of our own beliefs, when talking about particular issues. 

I was surprised to learn, as I was writing a long manuscript about my father’s life, trying to draw every lesson I could from his tragic example, that it is possible to identify with the feelings of a desperate, trapped woman who viciously takes it out on her baby.   The feelings, I say, not the actions.  It’s impossible to identify with the actions, I think.  The actions are despicable, whipping a baby in the face, there’s no defending that.   The feelings, odd to realize, are quite readily understandable.   That’s some fucking nuance right there, dear reader.  Let me try to make it as clear as I saw it that day.

A relative I never met, who was portrayed to me only as red-haired, tiny, very religious and with a terrible temper (also a great cook), turns out also to have whipped her infant son in the face, regularly.   It was part of her daily routine, breaking this toddler’s spirit.  I always assumed she was a psycho, which she most likely also was.  But one day it dawned on me, how tortured this woman was when she began taking it out on her first-born son.    It doesn’t excuse what she did in any way, but it sheds light.  Light is the only antidote to darkness.   It shows a path out of what she was trapped in, even if one didn’t exist for her in 1926 when she began her lifelong persecution of the boy she called “Sonny”.

The man she fell in love with was driven away by her brother and her sister-in-law.  It was nothing personal for them, nothing against the young man who loved her.  It was strictly practical.  Her marriage would have meant the loss of their indentured servant and they weren’t ready to give up their live in maid.   Years later she was forced into an arranged marriage with a man who seemed to be brain damaged. He’d been knocked in the head many times by his own angry step-mother and nobody will ever know if this deadpan man who died young was brain damaged or not.   He couldn’t make a living.   They lived in a filthy, teeming slum, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in 1922.   Every day the woman woke up to this horror.   Somehow she got pregnant.  The baby girl died shortly after she was born.  

At some point the heartbroken woman got pregnant again.   This time the tiny woman gave birth to a gigantic son.   We can imagine the pain of this childbirth.   The baby looked exactly like the idiotic husband who had knocked her up.   He looked at her with that same dopey expression.   One day the woman snapped, whipped the baby in the face with the thick, heavy, burlap wrapped cord of her iron.   It apparently felt good.  Maybe the only thing in her life that did.

I’m not being a lawyer for this evil mother.   We’d like to think a mother like this today would be in the hands of an excellent psychiatrist.   That her child would be getting help recovering from his trauma.  But what I’m digging for here is Nuance.   Not that she’s in any way right to act in this vicious way, but in order to understand her pathology, on the way to hopefully making life better for all involved, we have to fully know the context of her actions.

I rattle on about this subject tediously often, I’m aware.   We live in a world where every message we get, every bit of news, is curated, structured to support one polarized point of view or another.   It is extremely rare to get the full story about anything, from anyone.  I am always looking for a way to make the point about nuance and context that is not partisan.  I do this animated by the Anne Frank-like faith that most humans, in their hearts, are not haters.   That we are all basically good.

I believe this even as I hate any U.S. president who rains death on people who have no power to do anything but agonize and die, or if they manage to survive, fear and hate.   Few problems have ever been solved by the application of massive deadly force, whether you call it “Freedom on the March” or by any other high-sounding name.  It is of course business as usual,blowing shit up is a driving force of capitalist profit making.  

I felt a surge of hatred when Bill Clinton sent missiles that blew up civilians, destroyed infrastructure they needed to survive.   That same hatred surged through me when George W. Bush ignored millions of us marching in the frigid streets and launched “Shock and Awe”, later declaring victory and lynching Saddam after shooting his two hideous sons in the street like dogs.   As for the massive civilian deaths?  Killing civilians is now blandly called “collateral damage” nothing to get excited about, certainly no war crime, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.   Barack Obama’s extrajudicial murder of the radicalized American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenaged son Abdulrahim a week later– same deal, along with all the other deaths our recent president inflicted on unknown brown people on his secret kill list.

Can we have some fucking nuance, a little context so we can discuss these things intelligently instead of just using force to kill things like Terror, Evil, Haters of our Freedom?  Our previous president told us we were looking forward, not backwards at the architects of  our recent crimes under international law, you know, because we are, uh, taking the high road.   To be totally honest, we tortured some folks, what are you going to do?   Good folks doing some bad shit, with the best of intentions.  

Make American Great Again.   Hope and Change.  Make America Great Again, again.  The slogans change, a few of the proponents of government violence change with each administration, but the song remains the same.  Fuck nuance, fuck context, it feels good when our leader bombs the shit out of some fuckers who might very well be evil.  If nothing else, they really do appear to hate our freedom.  Even pundits who usually seem to have a reasonable grasp of world affairs go momentarily gaga when the president blows some shit up with a huge show of force.   It doesn’t seem possible to me that we are a nation of such stupid motherfuckers.

The evidence is not strong that we are not, but I am always digging for it.

 

 

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Second Round of Public Hearings on the Rezoning of Inwood

Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer apparently has to sign off on the Rezoning Plan that developers are pushing to fully monetize the quiet, bucolic village on the northernmost end of Manhattan Island.   It is a multi-billion dollar plan and unknown parties stand to make a real shitload of money if the gentrification plan goes through.

The Borough President will make her recommendation to the City Council on April 25.   She sent all Inwood residents a very well-designed brochure that lays out the bones of the proposed plan, with a map showing where developers will be allowed to build mixed use apartment buildings of up to 295 feet tall.   My street, I learned, is considered part of the Upland Core and apparently will not be rezoned for any building higher than the current six story limit.

At the meeting last night I asked for the deadline to submit a written statement in opposition to this rezoning plan.   Friday, April 13, the day after tomorrow, I was told.  So be it.   Thought I’d start a draft here, as I don’t have much time to get it done and submitted:

Dear Borough President Brewer:

Please vote NO on the current rezoning plan for Inwood. 

At minimum, please recommend severing the fate of the Inwood Public Library from the larger rezoning plan.   The issue of demolishing our public library for private profit warrants its own debate.  Our children, and all of us in this working class enclave, deserve no less.

For starters, thank you so much for the beautifully designed mailer with the map.  I think the formulation:  no rezoning = gentrification, bad rezoning = gentrification needs one more equation:  current rezoning plan = wildly accelerated gentrification.     It was a great help to read the steps of the process and see the layout of the planned changes and the extent that high rises will be allowed to spring up in our historically low-rise district of Manhattan.  The opacity of this developer-enriching plan has been a major problem all along.

To cite one example to stand in for the rest, the almost unreadably legalistic “Whereas” “Whereas” of CB12’s approval of this proposed development plan.   The lack of readily digestible information on the full scope of this plan that will further enrich unnamed developers and provide new market rent apartments for up to 80% of the 14,000 new Inwood residents is a major impediment to intelligent public debate.

I moved to Inwood more than forty years ago.  I used to bike up to play softball in Inwood Park and fell in love with the sleepy little village of Inwood and the sprawling, beautiful nature reserve.   My first lease for my rent stabilized apartment was $182.  My stabilized rent today is $805.   My neighbors upstairs and downstairs each pay at least twice that, even though each has a ‘preferential’ rent taking some of the sting out of it for them (since the landlord claims he could legally charge them even more).

There are many problems with the plan, including most obviously, the massive crowding that will occur as a result of the new density proposed by those who profit from building high-rise market rent buildings.  You noted that there are currently 16,000 rental apartments in Inwood.   The construction proposed in the rezoning plan will bring in 14,000 new residents, most of them willing to pay “market rents” of $2,000-$2,500 and more.   It doesn’t take a mathematician to look at these numbers and see how drastically, and disproportionately, the proposed plan will increase crowding in Inwood and otherwise affect the character of this quiet, working class family neighborhood.

The new high-rises and large influx of new market rent renters will make the rezoned neighborhood suddenly “hot” and seen as a great real estate deal in Manhattan.  This will give private landlords of existing buildings even more incentive to harass and evict tenants.   This is already a major problem in Inwood, and would become much more severe, once the profit motive gets the shot of steroids this accelerated development deal would instantly deliver.

Beyond overcrowding, loss of affordable housing, displacement of long-time residents, more stress on an overtaxed antiquated infrastructure (including the ancient sewers), increased car traffic and pollution, increased subway crowding on already underserved lines, there are other ominous features in this gentrification rezoning plan.

One is the continued silence on the question of the Inwood Library.   We were told by the representative from the EDC that a wonderful new library will be provided in the common space at the base of a massive new high-rise to be built on the library’s present footprint.   The credibility of the EDC is not bolstered by its touting of the $30,000,000 improvement of Highbridge Park, a park 1.4 miles south of Inwood (Google maps), as an example of how this plan will improve life for residents of Inwood.  They also made a bold and ridiculous claim about 100% affordable housing in development along with a new modern branch of the Inwood Library (see EDC “fact sheet” Inwood NYC Snapshot.)

Why is it necessary to demolish our library for the profit of a private developer who seeks maximum return on the largest possible number of units in his new 80% ‘market rate’ building?  What is the plan for the year or more of construction of this massive new high-rise?

Most of our overcrowded local schools do not have libraries.  The Inwood Public library is an invaluable community resource.  Presumably, according to advocates of the rezoning plan, including the EDC, it will be an even better one several years from now, when the children of the well-to-do new residents will be able to take an elevator downstairs to pick up their books.  What of the interim?

I am filled with a sense of futility about the fate of my neighborhood.   I have seen the massive displacements in every other area of the city where accelerated gentrification plans have been approved.  We have seen wealthy powerbrokers ramming neighborhood-killing deals through reluctant, ill-informed, politically weak citizenry going back to the days before Robert Moses was even a malevolent glint in his father’s eye.  

I had hopes for something better under Mayor de Blasio, although the forces acting on him, as on our compliant local Inwood politicians, most of whom sent representatives to speak for them rather than face the massive crowd at the CB12 meeting, seem to suggest that, well… there are forces that are just too powerful, well-connected and relentless to resist.  Political reality, I suppose, in an era when gigantic political donations are considered free speech.   We have an administration in Washington full of people who have lobbied for and profited from favorable government regulation, brazen about the appearance of impropriety in their dealings, being the beneficiaries of our two-tiered winner vs. loser approach to justice.   Our current president, as a developer, was the recipient of $885,000,000 in tax abatements and other breaks to build luxury buildings, much of this public generosity coming at the expense of New York City (source: NY Times 9-18-16)

Your opening remarks at the Public Meeting of April 10th gave me the hope that you understand and are sensitive to the dynamics of this rezoning plan, and its likely fallout for Inwood residents should it be implemented.   As I’ve noted, I’m not optimistic about the combined comments of all the current residents of Inwood amounting to a hill of beans in this discussion.  Not when put onto the balance against the powerful forces of progress and economic growth who stand to reap untold millions on this plan.

Their representatives speak of freedom on the march, open spaces, open waterfronts (the Hudson is already open, there is a long public park there), new community spaces, universal pre-K, a gleaming new lobby library, etc.   They pitch this as progress, but, as one panelist pointed out to deserved applause, the plan will benefit mostly the newcomers and absolutely come at the expense of many current residents of Inwood.

It is my weary hope that you will defy the expectations of the powerbrokers and real-estate profiteers and vote against this insatiably overreaching rezoning plan. Whatever else this plan might be, it is not designed in the interests of those of us who currently call Inwood our home.  

At minimum, please recommend severing the Inwood Public Library from the larger rezoning plan. The issue of demolishing our library warrants its own debate. Why is public property being ceded to a private interest?   The closing of the library, even if only for a year or two (an eternity in a young child’s life), deprives the people of Inwood of a community resource vital to education and democracy itself.   Selling the public library to a private developer merits its own discussion.    Our children, and all of us in this working class enclave, deserve no less.

Crisis Actors and other liberal BULLSHIT

Human imagination is a powerful force in history. Imagination has led to as many great developments in human history as horrific ones, but some of the horrific ones have been doozies.

Why are there so many climate catastrophes in recent years?   Most climate scientists believe these are related to the warming of the oceans, the melting of polar ice, the many signs that our earth’s climate is undergoing an inexorable and deadly shift due to man’s pollution of our biosphere.   

Of course, those scientists, we are angrily informed by self-named Climate Change Skeptics, also hate our freedom, job creation, industry, progress itself.  Occam’s Razor: in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the simplest theory — the one that relies on the fewest assumptions– is usually the best.  Imagine this simple Birther-like truth: God has brought this destruction upon us because we tolerate abominations, like two women loving each other as though one were a man.

Nonchalantly homosexual historian Yuval Noah Harari (LOL!) in his brilliant Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, points out that one of the key things that has allowed homo sapiens to transform itself from an insignificant prey animal into the earth’s alpha predator is our collective ability to believe, organize and act, often with deadly violence, based on dramatic, imaginative stories told passionately enough. 

A young woman in Palestine, a virgin celibately married to an older man, was impregnated by God two thousand years ago.  The child, God’s son, preached a doctrine of love, tolerance, forgiveness, generosity, kindness, peacefulness.   He was then nailed to a cross where he died an agonizing death before being resurrected a few days later.   The most vocal and politically active of his organized American followers today are often intolerant, unforgiving, ungenerous, unkind, warlike.  Jesus weeps beside His father, a deity who is now insane with grief.

The horrific examples of mankind’s imagination at work in the world are too numerous to do more than feint at.   Why were more than fifty million people killed in a five or six year period seventy years ago?[1]  In large part (in Europe, anyway) because one charismatic genius of self-promotion convinced a powerful nation that Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies, Slavs, Foreigners, Negroes, Hipsters were responsible for all the evil in the world and needed to be eliminated (or, in the case of the Slavs merely enslaved) in order to Make Germany Great Again.   Now this man, Herr Hitler, was just a lightning rod for these strong feelings, he could not have come to power if the time wasn’t absolutely right, but the time was right, and the rest, as we say, is history. 

We humans are suckers for a good story, a strong, simple story.   Countless billions have been made retelling the eternal human story of suffering and catharsis:  an individual is subjected to a violent trauma, their entire family is killed, but they defy the odds and prevail.   The second act of the story is their undeterrable search for the killer, the finale is their slaughter of the killer, which makes them, and the audience feel immediately  better.   

We collectively rejoice when a violent, evil fuck is violently put down.  If we honestly believe the mother gets relief when she finally hacks the murderer of her children to death, that she’s really all better after she gets her revenge, we are a bit simple-minded, but that’s not the point.  Catharsis through violent revenge is a compelling story, something the Hollywood dream machine runs on, it sells a million tickets, even if it doesn’t hold up well to even a soupcon of scrutiny.  The mother who has violently kicked this particular evil bastard’s ass still has her dead children.

This is all pretty self-evident stuff, like the God-given truth that we are all created equal.   Sit in the back of any criminal courtroom in the U.S. and you can see in very short order how self-evident this truth is, just watch who gets arraigned and picture the other equal citizens who will never be.  As God’s prophets have reminded us:  we reap what we sow.  Unless we are members of a historically despised minority swept up in a nationwide dragnet to keep privatized prisons profitable, or very wealthy, well-connected job creators, way too big to jail.

I just wanted to write a few words about this great leap of human imagination that we are recently hearing put forth as though it is a credible idea: “crisis actors”. 

Remember that story about the maniac in Connecticut who supposedly shot his mother in the face, armed himself to the teeth and went into a nearby school to murder as many kindergarten kids as he could?  It was, we are now being told, a “false flag” operation.  A set up.  To take away our guns.   Yeah, brilliantly simple, actually.   

The rabid left wingers got actors, paid “crisis actors”, to play the supposedly crying parents, the traumatized teachers who were unable to save all their kids.  It was all bullshit, you see, there was no maniac with a semi-automatic weapon raining death on five year-olds at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  It was typical liberal bullshit, they want you to believe these stories they make up to advance their agenda, so they pay people to pretend there is a crisis that needs addressing.   The only real crisis, of course, is these cynically lying haters who want to steal our liberties.

Look how eager the godless, left-wing corporate media is to gobble up these fake news stories.  You see how they do it?  Show the best of these paid crisis actors over and over and over, whining, crying, tearing their hair, rending their clothing in fake grief.  Who among us has a heart hard enough to resist the tears of the grieving parent of a tiny child who was shot to death?

That’s what these merciless fucking freedom haters are counting on, don’t you know?   That’s why these crisis actors are never lacking for work.  It’s like that godless Jew Saul Alinsky told his followers: exploit whatever is happening to advance your cause.  You must galvanize and organize the community around dramatic, traumatic events. 

And as every unscrupulous, Kool-aid swilling, partisan fuck knows, in a place where there is no chaos to exploit, create it.   Do you see how dangerous this is?  I’ll bet you thought those people you saw recently crying about dead high school kids on TV were real classmates, real teachers, real parents.  Hah!  You fell for it again.  Crisis actors paid by foreign born billionaire traitors like George Soros to take our guns away.

Theodore Herzl, a man with an iconic beard and a dream for a Jewish State, at a time when Jews everywhere were unsafe in the places they were allowed to live (a few generations before the slaughter of most of the Jews in Europe) famously said:  if you will it, it is no dream.  So true, provided you have the money, connections and political smarts to back up your will. 

In the contest for power, those who capture the imagination, feed the emotional needs of the audience, create a compelling story people will line up to hear told, those people will always kick ass.

Imagine a world where that principle was a bit less relentless, if you can.

 

[1]    World War II fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total deaths ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million. The higher figure of over 80 million includes deaths from war-related disease and famine. Civilians killed totaled 50 to 55 million, including 19 to 28 million from war-related disease and famine.

The consistency of these motherfuckers is impressive, if also sickening

There was a 911 call in Sacramento the night of March 18th, about a guy running through the neighborhood breaking car windows.   A police helicopter tracked a suspect to a backyard, where police on foot patrol converged on him.   Two officers shouted at the young black suspect to “show us your hands!”.  The man, Stephon Clark, after circling to the back of what turned out to be the house he lived in, took a step toward them, still a fair distance away.  The police then fired, twenty shots, killing him, as the audio on the police body cameras both suddenly went mute.   This can all be seen (and heard) in the video footage the policemen’s body cameras recorded. 

The audio on their body cams goes silent for a couple of minutes, and then, five minutes after their hail of twenty bullets, they are back on line, still calling for the prone, unmoving Stephon Clark to show them his hands.   They continue to demand compliance from his dead body before they will send in medical backup.  Clark was pronounced dead at the scene, his grandmother’s back yard, when medics eventually attended to him.

This kind of sudden, senseless, violent death happens with hideous regularity in our great, violent, gun-toting nation, in virtually every region of our country.  These police killings happen disproportionately to unarmed black men of a certain age.  It is not an isolated atrocious mistake that happens a few times a year, it happens way too frequently in America.   This legally sanctioned murder is not a problem isolated in racist enclaves, it is a nationwide horror, like mass shootings, thousands of annual military veteran suicides (thank you for your service), 67,000 dead from opioids in the last annual count.  

Unarmed young black men are killed by law enforcement in every corner of our exceptional nation.   It is virtually always, somehow, ruled justifiable homicide, terrible, regrettable, but understandable shit that just happens in a dangerous profession where police are justified to be scared shitless in a backyard during a helicopter manhunt for a guy smashing car windows.  

Some smart-ass reporter raised the question of this shooting of an unarmed man (the police video shows only a cell phone next to his dead body) to the President’s press secretary, daughter of a religious, right-wing former presidential candidate.   She answered the reporter with a hint of the smugness of her kind.  In fairness to her, she has an unenviable job, a job it is almost impossible to do with grace, a job affording a hundred opportunities a day to be quoted like this:  

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Certainly a terrible incident, this is something that is a local matter, and it’s something that we feel should be left up to the local authorities at this point.”

“States’ rights”, of course, the sovereignty of the local community, is always invoked by status quo types whenever the question of who should deal with the sticky problem of unruly local blacks comes up, or even ruly ones who are sometimes caught in an admittedly unfortunate situation that results in their violent deaths.   Back in the day, when the state and local governments of the former Confederacy were run by KKK members and sympathizers, (many of them very fine people, very fine people… our current president reminds us) it was frequently stated that, but for outside agitators, paid rabble rousers, professional trouble makers, Commies, Jews, and other unsavory, miscegenating social activist types, there had never been any damned trouble in the local communities between whites and blacks, we all got along great, as long as the niggers knew their place.

I know, of course, that as a reasonable white person I’m supposed to put “niggers” in quotation marks.   It is worse today to write the word, just as it is pronounced, than to tell a national audience that the killing of a person we will now all give the respect of calling an “n-word”, is a local matter.   Nothing to see here.  People like this young man Stephon Clark, who disobeyed cops after quite possibly smashing car windows, would at one time have been taken down a dark road, mutilated and hung from a tree.  Until very recently there was no law against local law enforcement keeping the peace any way it saw fit.   If it came to it, and the matter came to a court of law, it was up to a jury of peers in the local community to decide if the dead black person had been way out of fucking line.   In 2018, just like in the good old mythical days when this country was great for proud racists of all stripes, we leave it up to local authorities to decide what process is due, what justice is and where the lines are that separate ordinary police practices from murder.  

A local matter, nothing to see here, certainly no bigger picture, no pattern, no practice.   And it irks me out of proportion to the remark, because Sarah just said, what sounded to me like ‘uh, you know, Manifest Destiny,’  or “I know you are, but what am I?’ even if what she may have actually meant was no more than that at the present time this terrible tragedy is a local Sacramento investigation.   Thank God no policeman got hurt in the altercation between a man suspected of raging vandalism and those trained to protect and serve.  

Here’s where it chafes a bit more.   We leave this piece of a gigantic national horror story to the local authorities, even as those local authorities are tasked by this administration with assisting the feds in a nationwide hunt for deportable Mexican “rapists” and killers and those undocumented residents who are not allowed to apply for a driver’s license in many states, who we can then, in many states, stop at traffic checkpoints, detain and legally deport, for the serious crime of not having a valid driver’s license.  Same goes for purveyors and users of the evil weed, no quarter for you nationwide, and to hell with your “state’s rights” for those immoral malefactors who live in immoral states who vote that it’s just fine for people to smoke that awful drug.

In more enlightened times the Department of Justice might take on these police shooting cases as a kind of nationwide class action, attempt to craft a national solution to this hideous practice once and for all.   Of course, presently, the DOJ is headed by a man who was deemed too racist to be confirmed as a federal judge (imagine how racist you have to be not to slide under that bar…), a man who works for a beleaguered administration that has many more serious problems than probing why the occasional young black man, usually unarmed, continues to be shot to death by cops across every part of our once great nation, often for very minor infractions, or no infractions.  

A more pressing problem, to our nation’s top law enforcement official, is to root out those damn trouble-making illegal foreigners who are the cause of every ill that afflicts this great nation and to finally stamp out the Devil’s weed that so many states now flout federal law by allowing their citizens to use, some even allowing its use “recreationally”.    If you read a history of this country, you might swear you stepped through a warp in the fabric of time, are right at the end of Prohibition, when Herbert Hoover doubled down on deportations, protective tariffs and fighting a lost war of dubious morality, a war against intoxicating spirits, in the name of morality.

Makes me wanna holler.   I salute the young people who are not taking this shit lying down.  You have every goddamned right not to be shot to death when you are going about your business, even if you’re out of control and your business is trouble.  Even if you shoved a store owner and stole a box of cigars, smashed a car window, called the armed vigilante who stopped you on the street a provocative name, sold illegal cigarettes, informed the cop who pulled you over that you had a legally registered gun in the car, the death penalty, without a trial of any kind, except a two second one conducted by an adrenalized man with a gun, is a bit severe for most suspected crimes.   I think even self-righteous Sarah Huckabee Sanders might agree to that, privately, of course.

 

Oh, Jeez, Mom, not Context Again!

Amy Goodman reports today that Facebook stocks plummeted when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a right-wing psy-ops for hire outfit founded by reclusive right wing billionaire Robert Mercer, had harvested the unguarded personal information of 50,000,000 Facebook users.   The data was used to target personalized messages to those leaning toward voting Trump.  As it turned out, they only needed to swing less than 80,000 votes in a handful of states to win the Electoral College [1].   A genius of data mining, like Robert Mercer, would have no trouble doing the calculations, district by district.  The data from Facebook, and the ability to reach millions for free on the ‘social media’ platform, was apparently essential to moving just enough votes to the MAGA column.

Personally, I’d love to see Facebook go into the toilet, for its insidious role in the 2016 election and its ongoing role in society, but a CEO who has acquired $74,000,000,000 before his 34th birthday ain’t going to let that happen to his creation.  He beat the odds by monetizing Facebook beyond the wildest wet dreams of the Koch brothers.   He’s thinking of running for president himself, people have said, so he will definitely fix this, and find a way to make even more money off the loneliness and disconnection of most of the people on the planet.  Winners win, it’s just what they do.

The Cambridge Analytica story, while truly horrifying, will be around for a day or two before Cambridge Analytica slithers back into the shadows where they do their important and lucrative work.   People are too harried these days, notifications from their phones dinging every few seconds, to much remember what happened three months ago, or last week, let alone recognize any larger context.  Besides, much of the conversation is just too ugly to want to listen to.

It is said that the genius of our current president is that he is a master exploiter of chaos.  While he sends out his daily shit streams over a handy app called Twitter, and fights off the investigator who appears to be closing in on some of the businessman president’s more intractable financial crimes, he has already done plenty of irreversible mischief by quietly setting a record for lifetime appointments to the federal courts.  Read this headline, see if you can keep the vomit in your mouth.

Melania Trump told the nation when she became First Lady that she was going to launch a campaign to fight bullying.   By the looks of it she was bullied out of it.  I can picture her loving husband, supportive as always “listen to me, you whore, you signed a prenup I can very easily fuck you with.   As you know, I have the best lawyers and I have never, EVER lost any of the 4,000 lawsuits I’ve been involved in– not one, NEVER.  If you want to be a poor Slovenian girl again, go ahead, make my day, try to launch your program to make people like me look bad.”   With all the other shit that has splattered against the fan, and come rippling out at us, how many Americans even remember Melania’s idealistic vow?

How many have heard of Convict Leasing?  It was a common practice in the former Confederacy, for around a hundred years.   Devilishly simple program that provided slave labor for southerners who had a few bucks in their pockets.  Slavery was outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment the former Confederate states were forced to ratify, basically at gunpoint.   There was a nice loophole, see if you can spot it: 

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.[1]

Very good, yes:  except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.   Opposition to the Thirteenth Amendment was not based, God forbid, on the idea that slavery was moral.   Supporters of slavery in Congress made numerous other arguments about the awful harms a blanket outlawing of slavery would cause [2] .  Once the damned thing became an amendment, it was time to line up the Mac Trucks to drive through that loophole there.  There is an excellent documentary on Netflix called Thirteenth, where you can learn the full history and see American slave laborers in American prisons, at work today, for some of our greatest corporations. 

The original idea of how to control, and continue to profit from the unpaid labor of your inferiors was not long in coming, after the Thirteenth Amendment was rammed down the craws of the former slave owners.   Here you go: create a crime, like vagrancy, which is defined as, say, being on the street without fifty bucks on your person.   Nobody you like is ever stopped and forced to turn out his pockets so no decent person need ever feel threatened by such laws.  Like the drug laws today, they are selectively enforced, in the interests of “quality of life” and “Law and Order”.  The police will tip their hats to people in the fancy part of town and say “good afternoon, ma’am.  How are you today, sir?”   You only stop and frisk people you hate or fear, better if they’re big and strong and capable of hard physical work. Thankfully, you, as the lawman, have the gun, taser and billy club, and backup, when you stop these potentially savage criminals.

Across the former Confederacy these laws, part of the Black Codes, supported a system of perfectly legal slavery for a hundred years after the barbaric practice was outlawed by a constitutional amendment following the bloodiest war in American history.   It worked in two ways.   Before anyone was convicted of anything you could now go down to the local jail, pay the bond for a group of Negro detainees, essentially post some portion of the sum that would free them from a vagrancy charge, and let them work off their debt to you.  You could rent this work crew out to anyone you wanted, you basically owned them, until they paid off what they owed you.  With food, clothing, rent and sundry expenses deducted from their minimal pay, well, shoot, it could take them a lifetime or more to pay off their debt.  

You could also lease a convict work crew directly from a warden who’d send ’em over in leg irons to work your fields.   There was little danger in this, you had a few white men with guns in charge and, to keep the convicts in line, the most dangerous and brutal prisoners on horseback, trustees, armed and ready to ruthlessly enforce order among the workers.  Life is bad for the criminal class, and why should it not be?  Parchman Farm was one notorious prison/plantation where the old ways, from back when America was first great, were considered the best ways.   Prisoners died there regularly, sure, but, you know, bad shit happens to you when you’re a criminal.

Speaking of criminals and prisoners, I’ll show you a chart (reproduced in Matt Tabibi’s excellent, sickening The Divide), before I shuffle off to make myself some lunch:

20180320_144919.jpg

Locking up drug addicts and low level drug dealers does not seem to be halting the illegal drug trade or reducing the numbers of Americans with drug problems.  In 2017 we set a new record, on the way to making America great again, 67,000 dead of drug overdoses.   They have been calling it the Opioid Epidemic, Jared Kushner was supposed to solve it in his spare time.   Driven by wildly profitable Big Pharma players like the Sacklers, owners of Perdue Pharma (inventors and marketers of the lucrative, “non-addictive” time-released painkiller OxyContin) the craving for such drugs has been exploited by criminals now, too. Our president has a solution he is starting to speak of regularly:  Kill the motherfuckers who sell the drugs.  The death penalty, the only thing that can possibly stop them.

It’s the only way, as history has shown over and over, the deterrent power of the death penalty will discourage anyone who is not insane, desperate or very wealthy, from engaging in illegal behavior that will result in execution.    It will certainly work as well as the trickle down economics that are at the heart of the president’s plan for the masses of American losers, even if it doesn’t put a dime into the pocket of the selfless CEO of our once great nation.  It will work as well as mass deportations and protective tariffs, let’s be honest here.

By the way, thinking of some of the Stable Genius’s recent moves to Keep America First, two big initiatives Hebert Hoover used to try to stave off The Great Depression were  mass deportations of illegal immigrants and protective tariffs for American-made goods. He imposed tariffs on thousands of imported products and, while deporting a lot of ‘undesirables’, manfully avoided any impact on Americans from the worldwide economic Depression that followed from a decade of wild speculation and record profits for entrepreneurs and organized crime alike, (coupled with the ongoing demand on Germany to pay all costs associated with protecting the world for democracy during World War One).  Herbert Hoover, a truly great president, rolled up his sleeves and fucking solved the fucking crisis.  You could look it up.  Or simply check your phone, that notification is from one of your 20,000 closest Facebook friends.

 

 

[1]  The U.S Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear the appeal of aggrieved parties in Pennsylvania who want to overturn the ruling that Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered electoral districts must be redrawn because they impermissibly favor Republican candidates.   Trump won the electoral votes of Pennsylvania by a whopping almost 47,000 votes, a robust 0.7% of the votes cast there.     source

 

[2]  With no Southern states represented, few members of Congress pushed moral and religious arguments in favor of slavery. Democrats who opposed the amendment generally made arguments based on federalism and states’ rights.[29] Some argued that the proposed change so violated the spirit of the Constitution that it would not be a valid “amendment” but would instead constitute “revolution”.[30] Representative White, among other opponents, warned that the amendment would lead to full citizenship for blacks.[31]

Note that current American politicians, guys like our beleaguered Attorney General, make identical arguments, one hundred and fifty years later.  USA!  USA!!!

News Tidbit — Who’s Afraid of the NRA?

After the Parkland Florida mass shooting by a disturbed teenager who posed in a MAGA hat, killing seventeen with a legally purchased semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle, the President convened a bipartisan commission and had a camera crew record their discussion.   He suggested at the February 28th meeting that raising the age for purchase of AR-15s from 18 to 21 was something that had to be considered.  In a widely televised segment he chided a Republican who criticized this common sense, (though hardly problem-solving), idea for being afraid of the NRA.  

Trump is not afraid of the NRA, why would he be?  The gun nonprofit donated $30,000,000 to his presidential campaign, according to many,  more than $21,000,000 according to MSNBC, though the real number may be a much more modest $10,000,000 or so.   Let’s say it was only a few measly millions.  The point is, it’s not as though the NRA owns Mr. Trump.

Yet Mr. Trump has walked back those tough, common sense comments (if only minimally impacting the larger problem) he made at the televised photo op to show his concern for American school children gunned down by other school children. He has since had a better idea.   He put billionaire Christian fundamentalist Betsy DeVos on the case, telling his Secretary of Education to come up with a plan to “harden” our schools against gun attackers.  

If inexperienced son-in-law Jared Kushner can solve the Opioid Crisis while streamlining government and making peace in the Middle East, why shouldn’t Secretary DeVos be up to the simple task of making our schools “hard” enough to resist attacks by determined white males with assault weapons?   Kids should be reminded every day, as they walk into fortress schools, what a dangerous place our once great nation actually is.

You may report ridiculous things in a straightforward, factual way, in the manner of the New York Times.   That reporting does not make the things reported any less ridiculous, or in this case, grotesque.   But, yo, whatta ya gonna do?

By the way, the NRA, with its powerful lobbying arm that has fought back virtually every gun control measure for the last thirty years, identifies itself as “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization”.  [46]    It’s been around since 1871.  You do the math.

Accepting Reality

I had a random thought just now, listening to the president’s bold new plan to meet his stable genius counterpart in North Korea (something the U.S. Secretary of State himself didn’t know about as recently as yesterday) that when I was growing up we knew virtually everybody on our block.

I thought of Sam Gerwitz, across the street, who my father told me was very rich.   He must have been, he and his wife had a little statuette of a jockey, a small white fellow (his face and hands may have been painted pink during my early childhood), on their front lawn.  He held a lantern illuminating the path from the sidewalk, a path to their front door with a large white column on each side.  He was exactly the kind of little jockey Frank Zappa sang about knocking off the rich people’s lawns in his gospel-tinged Uncle Remus.  

I thought of the Meltons down the street, their daughter Joy, and Pierre, their dog. My father came in angry one day after work, carrying his battered brief case. Pierre had apparently loped on to our front lawn and left a pile of steaming cannon ball-sized turds.   I don’t remember what kind of dog Pierre was, possibly a standard poodle, but my father was outraged that the Meltons let him run wild to gleefully defecate on the neighbors’ lawns.  Melton might have smiled, observing his dog taking the Arnold Palmer putting stance and letting nature take its course.  I just remember how outraged my father was, and who could blame him?

The point of these quaint recollections is that I could go down the block, certainly our end of the street, and name every family, and family member, in every house, the Bengles, the Ticks, the Weissmans.  Such is not the case for most children growing up today.

The Good Humor man knew our dog Patches and would front her a cup of vanilla ice cream (which he dutifully opened for her and placed within reach of her tongue) until a human came out of our house to give him the ten cents. “Patches would come running, along with all the neighborhood children, when the music from that truck started,” my mother reminded us.

In those quaint days on the leafy streets of Queens, New York, we led what seemed an idyllic childhood.  My best friend Michael Siegel and I built a series of forts (in peoples’ back yards), formed the Waterbugs– a secret society dedicated to running through every sprinkler they passed– made an intricate system of dams in the street when the sprinklers sent water in rivulets down the hill to Union Turnpike, played baseball in the street.   Nobody feared the Good Humor man, or any local shop owner, as far as any of them being a child molester.  It emerged, years later, that my best friend’s father was a pedophile, but apparently such a gracious host, so gentle and loved by the boys on the block that several stood crying as the cops led him away.

Not to imply by these sentimental little vignettes that life in those days was like the Great America our imbecilic president claims he’s trying to bring back.   Yes, I grew up in a stable neighborhood of well-tended lawns, on a quiet street where I knew everybody’s name.  But, as Woody Allen’s slippery character evasively answered in The Front, when asked under oath if he knew a certain suspected Communist screenwriter: when do you really know somebody?   Did the neighbors hear our screaming fights at the dinner table every night?

The public school I attended was segregated, a decade after the Supreme Court ordered an end to the racist practice.  I remember the first black children arriving at our school, on the E, F and G buses, at the end of a bitter war I also remember, during which my mother’s friend and pro-integration comrade Mildred Rose received a vicious letter with COMMIE scrawled across the envelope.  I recall Mildred’s horror as she told my mother, gasped the word COMMIE, the look of concern that crossed my mother’s face.  The word itself was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard. My friend Robbie and I began using it daily, calling each other and everyone else Commie and laughing at how it was always so fucking funny. 

Meanwhile, largely unknown to us, our government was engaged in an existential war on Commies everywhere, in the name of freedom, had been since a decade before our births.   In the name of freedom charismatic John F. Kennedy quietly sent military advisors and tons of weapons to help a corrupt Vietnamese regime fight the Commies led by Vietnamese nationalist hero Ho Chi Minh.    An invented pretext allowed Kennedy’s successor to escalate the war, a war to prevent all the countries of Southeast Asia from falling like dominos to Communism if Vietnam was lost to the godless Commies.  The “Domino Theory,” like “Manifest Destiny” before it, was good enough to sustain an unimaginably gigantic campaign of organized violence and mass murder for years.

Here is what I am getting to about accepting reality.   The reality then for me, as I became a teenager, was if the Vietnam war had continued another year or so, I would have had to figure out how to get out of the draft, like war-loving Dick Cheney, Dubya Bush and Donald Trump had, or be sent over there to fight for American freedom by burning the villages of Vietnamese Commie sympathizers on “our” side of the arbitrary line drawn on a map when the northern part was ceded to the Commies after the expulsion of the French colonialists not long before I was born.  

Much of my childhood had been spent watching atrocities on TV, exciting war news about a war no more sensible, or justifiable, really, than the First World War.   The scores ran like obscene basketball scores across the bottom of the screen.  Yesterday we won 1,396 to 55.  We killed 1,396 Commies, they’d only gotten 55 of us.  Later we learned how the scores were arrived at:  kill any Vietnamese guy between 12 and 60, score one for us.   All presumed fucking Commies.

I remember seeing a marijuana-related piece on the nightly war news, which we sometimes watched during dinner on a small black and white TV with rabbit ears.  The piece was a brief aside about the rampant drug use by American soldiers in Vietnam (thousands came back addicted to heroin).  A couple of smiling grunts demonstrated the ingenious technique of using a gun barrel as a pipe for smoking inhumanly large lungfuls of ganga.  They’d create a burning pile of the weed at the top of the gun barrel and one soldier would blow the smoke forcefully through the gun barrel into another soldier’s mouth.  They called it shotgunning.  I remember the poor bastard who’d been on the receiving end of the shotgun, an American kid caught in an endless jungle war in toxic quicksand, falling over backwards laughing, expelling vast, thick plumes of smoke.  The news correspondent mentioned the name of the god-forsaken place they were sitting and signed off.

There was a massive anti-war movement, and I attended many mass protests as did most people I knew, but the war machine raged on for years.  Many of us marched out of outrage against what was going on, the horrors being committed in our names, and fear for our fate if this insane war was not ended.   Our leaders spoke high-mindedly about ending the war on our terms, Peace with Honor.  One slogan the anti-war folks had was “Killing for Peace is like Fucking for Chastity.”  After the American attack on Vietnam (which included vast quantities of chemical weapons like Dow Chemical’s Napalm [1], a flammable flesh burning weapon from hell)  finally ended our leaders realized an all volunteer army was better for morale, and public support of any war.  The end of the draft had the great benefit of depriving millions of a personal stake for protesting American military adventures to wipe out godless Commies (today the enemy is “terror”) wherever they might be hiding.

Accepting reality means, on one level, accepting that there is really nothing we can do about the irresistibly obscene profits of those who make weapons.  Can’t sell the goddamned things and have ’em sit in a fucking warehouse, governments ain’t going to go for that on the gigantic scale we need to make it worth keeping the factories going full-time, keeping everyone employed in the munitions industry.  Got to have wars, constantly, everywhere we can.  It’s a sad reality, but military force is the only thing these evil motherfuckers understand.  When Trump dropped “the mother of all bombs,” devastating a square mile of Afghanistan, he got a standing ovation from the spokesmen for a nation grateful that he was finally acting “presidential”.

Talking piece of shit and chief apologist for our culture of gun violence Wayne LaPierre reminded me the other day, with his snide dismissal of godless left-wing attempts to cynically exploit tragedy and manipulate the public after every single isolated and unfortunate high-profile mass shooting of school children, of a long dead activist whose name has become a snarling point for patriotic right wing pundits: Saul Alinsky.  I reserved Alinsky’s 1971 Rules for Radicals from the public library and a few days later picked it up at the branch that is scheduled for demolition, as soon as all the ULURPs are signed off on and the checks are all cut to interested parties.  

The book is a guide for practical actions to steadfastly but nonviolently change hearts, minds, practices and laws.  During his prologue Alinsky states emphatically that the revolution he advocates has nothing to do with Communist revolution, although Communists have written virtually all of the manuals for revolution in the past century.  He states several times that violence is not a sensible option for affecting positive social change in a democracy.   He points out the failures of every revolution by force, how quickly the new oppressors entrench themselves in self-perpetuating power.   He makes the point that social change, imagining and creating a better world, requires overturning many core beliefs of the status quo.  

The U.S., at the time he was writing, had produced 1,600 tons of nerve gas.   We weren’t going to use it, of course, but we needed 1,600 tons of it since the Commies were intent on converting every American to a slave.  Follow that logic, if you can.  That deadly shit, the kind of stuff that, if his forces employed it, would justify a righteous attack on the murderous Mr. Assad in Syria, is now at the bottom of the oceans, waiting harmlessly for God knows what.  Nerve gas is an inhuman, universally condemned chemical weapon, although, it must be said, the U.S. still produces and sells White Phosphorous, which burns unstoppably through flesh and bone and the use of which is considered, by many, to be a war crime.

How does the world get better?   By people of conscience organizing, imagining a better future, creating effective nonviolent battle plans, improvising smartly, using the mass media to further our narrative of how the world should be.  I have not read very far into Alinsky’s book, but it invites me to imagine the world and the kind of principled action he is talking about.   You can’t kill your way to peace anymore than you can fuck your way to chastity.  

When I was eight racist police chiefs were turning high powered hoses on blacks who were intent on voting, using public bathrooms, walking on the sidewalk instead of the street, not being lynched for the crime of making eye contact with their white superiors.  I am now sixty-one and racist government officials still fight the idea that just because significant numbers of unarmed blacks are killed by the police every year, in numbers grotesquely disproportionate to the percentage of blacks in America, that we have a systemic problem here.  The problem is not widespread racist injustice, according to these officials, it’s fucking agitators, lawlessness, troublemakers, whistleblowers, goddamned ‘citizen journalists’ with their video phones, malcontents, racist black terrorists, Commies.

Homo sapiens, the descendants of apes who now rule the planet, calls itself “wise man,” sapiens apparently meaning wise.   We are wise enough to combine in huge numbers, animated by abstract beliefs, and do amazing things.  Sadly, one of the most common and consistent of these things is organized mass violence against other groups of humans, against any species or ecosystem we choose.  We were wise enough to rise up, from an insignificant prey animal, and organize ourselves, collectively, during the geological blink of an eye, into the apex predator on the planet. 

When President Obama vastly expanded the drone killing program his people came up with something called the Signature Strike.  It might have been Cheney’s people with that innovative idea, I’d have to ask Jeremy Scahill [the program apparently started in 2008 at the end of the Bush administration– ed.]  [2].   The theory is fairly straightforward: certain actions in certain areas are the signatures of terrorists and militants.  When we detect a pattern of such things we send a drone to kill the unknown persons who are engaging in things terrorists tend to do.  When we count the dead bodies, any male body between certain ages is counted as an enemy combatant.  As simple, and effective, as the body counts in Vietnam.   You hardly need a scorecard to know that if we kill more of them than they kill of us, we are winning.

We homo sapiens are capable of amazing things, creating transcendent beauty.   We can move each other to cry using words, sounds, sights, tastes.  We can laugh, and make each other laugh, by these same devices.  We are also the most violent, insane, unbending motherfuckers on the planet.   Can you imagine a better future?  We must get busy finding others who share this vision, organizing, successfully spinning our vision of a better future correctly in the mass media, influencing the perceptions, confirming the most decent innate beliefs of our fellow citizens.  

Failing this, we’re all fucking dead, my friends.   The New York Times may put a nice spin on much of this, you know, how freedom and progress are on the march, and the world is a pretty good place, never better, really, if you can afford to buy the things that make it worthwhile, of course, but none of their bodies are on the line, until every human body on the planet is on the line.  Which, one could argue, is now.

 

[1] Here’s a surprise for you, gentle reader:

In the 1960s, the Dow Chemical Company re-partnered with Badische, the German company that had produced Zyklon-B, the gas used to execute people in Nazi death camps, and formed Dow-Badische. Dow-Badische created and produced Napalm-B, an updated napalm consisting of “25 percent gasoline, 25 percent benzene, and 50 percent polystyrene”.[9] After news reports of napalm B’s deadly and disfiguring effects were published, Dow Chemical experienced boycotts of its products, and its recruiters for new chemists, chemical engineers, etc., graduating from college were subject to campus boycotts. The management of the company decided that its “first obligation was the government.” Meanwhile, napalm B became a symbol for the Vietnam War.[10]

[2]  Signature strikes began during the Bush years, in January 2008, as the US intensified drone strikes in Pakistan. When Obama entered office in 2009, his administration picked up where Bush left off and exponentially increased the number of drone strikes. During his eight years in office, Bush launched 51 drone strikes in Pakistan and killed between 410 and 595 people. Obama, so far, has launched 419 drone strikes in Pakistan, alone, and killed over 4,500 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.   (this was as of August 4, 2015)

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