The recurring theme of a “War on Christmas” is now a tradition. Annually, stalwart intellectuals like Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Bachman et. al. will take to the air waves and will announce that our Christmas spirit is somehow less than Christian because we say ‘Holiday’ rather than ‘Christmas.’ The only thing more vitiated of actual intellectual content is the peals of outrage over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson’s suspension because he managed, in a single interview, to shred whatever veil of civility his on air persona once presented. There are millions of writers, thinkers, speakers of all political and cultural persuasions who will never garner the kind of audience Phil has, precisely because speech, of the variety that Phil has the privilege to practice, is NOT free. It is very expensive. Considering the banality of Phil’s assertions, it should cost him more than his pathetic job is worth.
But the ‘War on Christmas’…
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Hunter S. Thompson, whose visceral insight would be much appreciated today, said of Nixon’s election in ’72, “Everyone stopped doing psychedelics and speed, and started doing downers.” The natural impulse is to hide, clap hands over eyes or ears and pretend this isn’t the national nightmare it is.
Mr. Trump has triumphed, and whatever delight his supporters might take will be short-lived. The hangover will be in the way of buyer’s regret not unlike the British whose Brexit vote left everyone baffled. Why would they do that to themselves?
Indeed. But the answers come in truck loads: angry voters tired of political cant cast their anti-establishment vote. You could say they were sexist and racist and that’s probably true on the margins, but I suspect a little under 50% of the electorate is not racist or sexist. Many of them are simply fed up with the existing order of things. Healthcare cost traveling steadily upwards, retirement accounts vanished, college education– a second and third mortgage, tertiary jobs that still don’t pay the bills; while millionaire news anchors feed them a stream of nonsense. What this election should make liberal Democrats rethink is that extraordinarily near-sighted strategy of relying so heavily on identity politics to win national elections—and their concomitant decision to jettison blue-collar workers across the land. You can’t be both Wall Street and Main Street. Obama and the Clintons and the Democratic Party, in general, have aligned themselves with Wall Street throughout the last three decades. Their center right neoliberal policies have made a hash of the middle class, and eviscerated the poor. This started with Bill Clinton’s famous triangulation and has led us straight to here.
If you scan the electoral map, you’ll see the broad outline of Trump’s victory in the industrially devastated Mid-West and Appalachian regions of our country. Poor, white, less educated, left behind by a gutted manufacturing base, and sneered at by millionaire anchors hardly more literate than themselves, by commentarial dunces.
What’s happened is not hard to discern. Trump brandished a big loud ‘fuck you’ to the smug elites. He achieved what many a politician probably envy, traction with the common man by reacting authentically to being likewise snubbed by those same elites—his famously thin skin is a political asset for the voters who feel snubbed in the same way. Making ‘fun’ of Trump will do Democrats no good. Focusing on his abundant personality faults is a losing battle, because the people who voted for him voted precisely for those faults.
True, his cabinet picks are wildly disturbing. Pruitt, if confirmed, is a climate change denier who will be appointed head of the EPA. Ben Carson who favors dismantling much of HUD will be in charge of that agency. Pudzer, his Labor Secretary pick, is a fast food magnate who applauds the rise of robots as replacement labor and opposes raising the minimum wage. General “Mad Dog” Mattis has been anointed Secretary of Defense. He likes to talk about his enjoyment in killing people, or the necessity of it. “It’s fun to shoot some people…Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” But he does have sage advice for waging war, advice progressives should take to heart:
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Most of my friends have had a visceral response to Trump’s ascension. After the election night, a few simply refused to get dressed the next day. A pervasive sense of doom has descended upon the ranks of America’s most hopeful demographic. For what are progressives if not hopeful? The scope of the disaster seems unprecedented. And the fall– from sanguine plans of mediating a Clinton victory to quasi-fascist takeover– is breathtaking. But regardless of our feckless media, we still have serious issues to handle. Trump probably isn’t going to help, but we shouldn’t let him hinder us, either.
How does that work? Make a list of concrete things we need to accomplish in the next four years. Not just rear guard defensive actions, but items that we would have pushed for under any administration. My list consists of switching our energy grid from carbon emitters like petroleum and coal to renewable energy sources, solar and wind. Reform our local, state and national election systems by eliminating gerrymandering, reforming the electoral college, instituting IVR (instant voter runoff), and re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine. Decrease income inequality by passing the ERA. Use things like a financial transaction tax to debit each trade on Wall Street by a small percentage and apply those funds to college tuition grants, healthcare subsidies, etc. With regard to our retirement system, we could shore up any problems with Social Security by raising the base wage Social Security tax to include those making over $118,500. Currently, those who make in excess of that annual salary pay no Social Security tax at all. Ideally, Obamacare should be overhauled and a single payer system should be rolled out. This is by far the most efficient system on Earth and has a successful track record in almost every other Western Industrialized society except the United States which refuses because of the scary word ‘socialism.’ Increase job opportunities by funding much-needed infrastructure projects-including making our economy green. Eliminate the poverty to prison pipeline by repealing ridiculously harsh drug laws that disproportionately affect minority and lower class communities and stop using for profit prisons.
This list is not comprehensive by any stretch but the ideas are all based on concrete goals that are actually broadly shared by wide swaths of the electorate. Everyone wants a clean environment. Everyone wants decent affordable healthcare and education. Everyone wants a living wage. Even Trump supporters. In fact, especially them. Yet, not one of these goals has the word ‘Trump’ in it, nor should it. Neither do they have the word ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’. They are prioritized based on necessity, starting with the survival of the species (moving off carbon based energy sources), then political reforms that can lead to ameliorating the harsh binary world of income inequality that leads to elections results that we’ve just seen.
So don’t talk about what Trump will or will not do. He thrives off the attention. Rather, discuss what we need to do, regardless of Trump. He’s a troll who has managed to con a portion of the nation that desperately wanted to be conned. Focus on the concrete. Trump is a symptom of a deeper malaise, and the solution is not only to defeat Republicans like Trump, but neoliberals of either party. One way of doing this is to run insurgent left primary candidates (including avowed democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders) against mainstream Democrats as well as Republicans. They may not win, but it forces the Overton window to the left and makes discussion of income inequality, fair trade rather than free trade, the centerpiece of an election rather than an edge issue. Make your own list today and work on it. Run for office, locally, or nationally. And, for God sakes, whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls.
~by Jack Johnson
French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.
It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.
In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”
“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.
This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”
…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.
For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).
We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.
In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.
Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”
Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.
Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”
“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”
The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…
The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.
So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.
But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.
“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting
Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.
Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.
Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.
In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.
You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.
Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers, developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.
My friend of the deepest blue persuasion is pessimistic about Bernie Sanders’ chances. He’s a lefty for whom the term socialist is not a label of derision but rather one that brings up fond memories of galvanized workers demanding eight hour work days. And he’s from Canada! So when even he shifts uncomfortably at Sanders’ prospects, I lean in.
Rightly, he pointed out the difficulties. First, the odds of Sanders succeeding in the Democratic primaries is scant. The superdelegate count is going to kill him. He trounced Hillary Clinton by 20 percent in the New Hampshire primaries and the end result was a virtual tie in delegates offered up by that state. We can thank the Democratic Party’s odd primary rules for the outcome—odd primary rules that allow for so called superdelegates.
There are 712 superdelegates, about 30% of the 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. They are ‘establishment politicians’ made up of every Democratic congressperson, sitting governor, and the President and Vice President. They also include members of the Democratic National Committee, like elected Democratic mayors and county executives, and other party officials. And, the main rub — they are allowed to back any candidate they want, regardless of the election results in their state.
So, my lefty friend noted, unless Bernie can come up with a convincing majority in the primaries—and not just ‘close’ ties, superdelegates will likely sway the outcome. And, he noted, these superdelegates were created precisely in order to give a bigger voice to the establishment who could better “figure out a way to unify our party.” Code, my friend said, for gathering both the conservative and liberal Democrats under one big tent.
“Needless to say, Bernie is no friend of the Democratic establishment. For years they have lived off of Wall Street’s largesse.”
“Not good,” I said.
“But that’s not all,” he added, “Let’s say something unusual happens. Something truly radical and Bernie Sanders actually WINS the Democratic Nomination.”
“Okay,” I agreed, eagerly, “Let’s say that!”
“He still has to govern an electoral body swayed far way to the right. The House will remain Republican for the foreseeable future. The Senate will be contentious, but even if a Democratic majority should prevail, the House will hold the purse strings. If you think they’re giving Obama a hard time, can you imagine their reaction to an avowed socialist? Gridlock doesn’t even begin to define that outcome.”
“Democratic socialist,” I grumbled, leaning back, my heart sinking a little as each wise word came thudding in. And yet, I couldn’t quite let it go, this idea that change was not just possible, but inevitable.
“Let me ask you, regardless of the outcome for the idea, don’t you think it’s important that we break up the big banks?”
“Sure, but it’s not going to happen.”
“Wait. Don’t speculate about what will or will not happen. Let’s just talk about the policy on its merits, isn’t that a good, important idea?”
My friend made a face, “Sure it is. We need to break up the big banks. They’re monopolizing our present, helping to buy off our elections and forfeiting our futures. But–”
“Shhh,” I held up my hand. “Wait. Now tell me how guaranteeing healthcare for everyone using a single payer system by expanding Medicare isn’t a good idea.”
“Of course it’s a good idea. I’m from Canada and I know exactly how well it operates. I also get insurance whenever I come down here so I don’t have to worry about paying $50,000 for a broken leg. You don’t have to convince me of that.”
“Okay what about reversing trade policies like NAFTA or TPP that route our jobs overseas? Or raising the minimum wage and making college tuition free?”
“Pie in the sky.”
“No, it’s not. If you can pay for endless war, you can certainly pay for these things. Here’s how that could work. You create a simple progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. There’s another thing you can do that Bernie is proposing. You can enact a miniscule tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings. It’s called a transaction tax. It’ll have two benefits. First, it will provide funding for those who can’t make it in our rigged system and second, maybe even more importantly, it will reduce the level of booms and busts on Wall Street by making ‘automated’ sell and buy orders less attractive. This isn’t pie in the sky at all. It’s absolutely practical and smart.”
“Okay, all that’s good, but, like I said, it will never happen.”
“So, let me rephrase that. You just said that everything in Bernie Sander’s platform is a net good, a positive thing for our country. Now he has a chance, even if it’s an outside chance. You know what the only thing really holding us back is?
My friend looked at me blankly, then quipped. “Um, superdelegates, a belligerent majority in congress?”
“No.” I said, “It’s us. The American electorate, if we don’t vote for what we really want and what we need.”
I’m not sure if I convinced him, but he looked a little bemused, then quipped.
“You have that endearing American trait; optimism.”
“Okay, call me silly, but I look at it this way. The civil rights marches and the gay rights movement didn’t happen because some pundit decided they were a good idea. Far from it. The Times tagged Martin Luther King as persona non grata for years. The level of animosity against such movements from the elite was massive, but the elites didn’t get to decide the outcomes for those movements. The people did. The elites were dragged along in the movement’s wake. The same thing can happen here. You change hearts, and then you change the system.”
“Sanders has already made it necessary to take income inequality seriously –he’s moved the issue to the center of the Democratic debate. And, by the way, even if he doesn’t win, the longer he lasts and the better he does the more attention it will get. And then, more hearts will change.”
“Will?” My friend raised his eyebrow.
“Yes, will. Then outcomes will follow.”
“Right?” He sounded equivocal, at best.
“Yes, first, hundreds of things change—perspectives and attitudes, a way of looking at the world, the context of even discussing subjects like free trade and income equality, but then only one little thing has to happen.”
The Virginia Presidential State Primary is next Tuesday, March 1st. Mark your calendar and please vote!
By Jack Johnson
I wonder what the folks at Davos are saying about the water in Flint, Michigan? Davos, if by some miracle you haven’t heard, is a Swiss mountain village where CEOs, hedge fund managers, economic leaders, political heavy weights, and a few celebrities meet to discuss the big issues of the day. Sometimes they come away with actual solutions to intractable problems. Mostly, though, they reaffirm their commitment to making deals and carrying on the neoliberal agenda for the world economic order by which they have grandly profited. This is why I suspect their conversations won’t really embrace the whole Flint, Michigan phenomena in all its seedy detail.
“Did you hear about the people of Flint?”
“The who? I don’t see ‘Flint people’ speaking at any conferences. Is it a new band?”
“No. Flint people are people who live in Flint, Michigan.”
“Michigan? Sounds dreadful. No ski slopes for miles.”
“Well, actually, what they need isn’t ski slopes. It’s water.”
“Water, really? Excellent. I have contacts at Nestle’s. We’ll send them high quality bottled water, tout suite!”
“I don’t think that will work.”
“They would prefer Pierre? Fine, I know an old fraternity friend who runs their import division. I’ll just reach out to him and we’ll set things straight, pronto.”
“No, no, no, no. They have water, it’s just been poisoned.”
“Poisoned? How very de Medici. The entire water system? Amazing. That sounds like the makings of a Hollywood thriller. Which terrorist group was responsible? ISIS? Boko Harem? Maybe we can get Kevin Costner on the project?”
“Actually, it wasn’t a terrorist organization at all. It was Governor Rick Snyder, and his emergency manager.”
“You don’t say. Well, I’m sure he had an excellent reason. You don’t go poisoning an entire city without good cause.”
“He wanted to save money.”
“The very best reason! We simply cannot be lavishing money on entire cities after all. Especially those darker cities if you catch my drift.”
“I do, but I suspect the move was ill advised. Now it’s come out that the children of Flint are suffering from lead poisoning and Rick Snyder is requesting federal emergency funds to bail his city out.”
“Oh, dear, more money! Tut, tut, it’s apparent to me that dear Mitch didn’t handle this crisis effectively. I have a PR firm—Burson-Marsteller– that can handle such things. Let me get them on the horn.”
“It’s too late. It’s already in the national news.”
“Oh that is dreadful. Nothing can be done, then.”
“Yes, yes it’s bad. Very bad. Mitch will be in for a rough ride. Yes, and I hear the children of Flint are dying, too.”
Of course, this is an imagined scene. I seriously doubt a conversation of even this short length would take place at Davos about such lowly concerns as Flint, Michigan’s water problems. Or Virginia’s water problems for that matter. In fact, there’s an excellent chance you haven’t heard about those issues either; because no one has died of them… .yet. But if you’re a Richmonder, you should probably know that on January 14th, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved permits that allowed the Dominion Virginia Power company to discharge water from coal ash ponds at Bremo Power Station, roughly 50 miles upstream of Richmond on the James River, and the Possum Point Power Station, located 30 miles south of Washington, D.C., at the confluence of the Potomac River and Quantico Creek.
Now there are a few things for us to keep in mind about this which our Water Board apparently didn’t. Residue from coal ash contains heavy metals like arsenic and mercury so there are significant environmental as well as health impacts to citizens downstream. Citizens in Richmond, Virginia, to be specific.
The odds of a Richmonder attending Davos are slight, but if someone from Richmond did attend, they are likely to be heading a big company, like Dominion Virginia Power for example.
Maybe next year or the year after, we’ll be able to imagine another conversation at Davos. Something along these lines…
“Did you hear about the people of Richmond?”
“The people of where?”
“Richmond, Virginia, darling. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? Well, you see, Richmond was an up and coming city. They were making quite a name for themselves as the river city of the East Coast, best urban white water rapids anywhere in the continental U.S., actually. They had a vibrant art scene and really wonderful restaurants. Foodies and creatives all over the place. And lots of tattoos. But then Tommy Farrell, you remember Tommy, don’t you?”
“Why, yes. Tommy and I used to play Mahjong together all the time! Heads that power company now, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, Dominion. Well he decided to bend a few legislative arms to get out from under some testy environmental regulators. You know Tommy had most of the Virginia General Assembly in his back pocket. He’s heaped about $1.6 million to statewide and legislative candidates since the start of 2013, so it’s no wonder some back water agency decides to do his bidding. Anyhow, it turns out pouring arsenic and mercury from old coal ash ponds into the drinking water for an entire city was not such a grand idea.”
“I don’t want to go into the details—they are…graphic. Let’s just say Tommy never learned anything from Rick Snyder.”
“You mean this made the national press, as well?”
“Yes. And it killed Richmond’s chance to be a first tier city. Who wants to live in a place where you can’t trust the drinking water, after all? There’s only so much Pierre in the world to go around.”
“Pity…. Poor Tommy.”
“It’s like that old Rime from the Ancient Mariner, do you remember that? We had to memorize the thing in our prep school days. How does it go again?”
“Something, something…’Water, water everywhere. And not a drop to drink’, that’s it, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s it. Say have you tried these canapés? They are amazing!”
-by Jack Johnson
So you may have heard there’s this guy running for president – no, not that guy! I’m talking about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders! I’ll excuse you for thinking that I was going to talk about a certain billionaire demagogue for whom the mainstream media has been effectively, if not completely willingly shilling for since May. Of course, Sanders draws larger crowds, has a coherent policy agenda and a lifetime of experience in actual elected office, none of which said billionaire has, but that hasn’t helped Sanders.
His opponent in the Democratic primaries is also very well known, and while she has a coherent policy agenda and experience in governance, the press love her for the polarizing effect she has on the public and deserved or undeserved whiff of scandal that trails after her.
Secretary Clinton is the anointed choice of Democratic leadership, and their efforts to silence or marginalize Sanders by rigging the debate schedule, for instance, one can imagine encouraging the media blackout of his campaign would be expected in a high stakes, bare knuckle run for the presidency. But I suspect you will now hear a bit more about the Sanders campaign since a minor scandal seems to have erupted involving a breach in the NGP VAN voter data base which is vital to GOTV efforts for both the Clinton campaign and particularly the Sanders campaign.
So far, this doesn’t seem to amount to much but I suspect you will be hearing about it tomorrow night if you tune into the Democratic debate being held on the opening weekend of the most anticipated movie in recent history (thanks DNC), and more importantly on cable news channels that can’t find the will to concentrate on actual issues but love horse races and scandal.
With the collapse of the GOP into a shambling, drooling personification of the frightened Id of aging, rural white America is certainly an engaging storyline and worthy of better reporting than we’ve gotten from the press so far. The rebirth of a vigorous Progressive movement that has manifested itself in the Sanders campaign has simply been ignored, except in so far as it pertains to Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers. Let’s see if Bernie doesn’t get some press now that there’s a “gate” to suffix to whatever this database thing actually is.
~by Scott Price
“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” ~ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
While some efforts are underway to curb terrorists’ easy access to social media for recruitment purposes, heavier monitoring is needed.
If our government does it, that’s a real slippery slope – though for national security matters, I think it would survive First Amendment challenges. I would rather see social media companies do it on their own.
“It was the second time in two weeks that Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, had thrown herself into the brewing battle between Silicon Valley and the government over what steps should be taken to block the use of Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and a range of encrypted apps that are adopted by terrorist groups.”
Hillary Clinton Urges Silicon Valley to ‘Disrupt’ ISIS – The New York Times
“Google’s YouTube has expanded a little-known “Trusted Flagger” program, allowing groups ranging from a British anti-terror police unit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, to flag large numbers of videos as problematic and get immediate action.”
Social media companies step up battle against militant propaganda – Reuters
Schenck v. United States
“As the precedents stand at present, therefore, it appears that Schenck is still good law. Criminal attempts may be prosecuted even if carried out solely through expressive behavior, and a majority of the justices continue to view such prosecutions in the light of the majority opinion in Abrams: the Court will defer to legislative judgments, at least in national security matters, that some forms of political advocacy may be prosecuted.”
The BBC opened its article on our no good, very bad, massacre day by writing, it’s “just another day in the United States of America.” You can’t really argue with that. There is, however, the slightly interesting variation of having not just one regrettable massacre to worry about, but as of 9:51 p.m. this evening, two massacres. The first occurred in the wee morning hours in Savannah, Georgia, involving at least three wounded and one dead and the next occurred later during the day in San Bernardino, California where the final death toll has not been tallied but at least 14 people have been murdered, thus far. Not a good day, but not really that atypical either.
Gun deaths in the U.S. have killed more people in the last twelve years than AIDS, war, terrorism, and illegal drug overdoses combined. You can read about that below.
Why, you might ask, does this continue to happen?
Well, this link might help explain things. It is a listing of all the politicians who have received campaign contributions from the NRA.
The politicians on that list, by the way, were almost uniform in their sanctimonious offering of prayers for the victims of this latest round of killings in America. The largest recipients of the NRA largesse seem, somehow, always to be the first to offer their prayers of sympathy for those murdered by their calculated inaction. Such prayers, it should be said, are less than useless now.
~by Jack Johnson
The disheartening news out of rural Alabama this week is enough to make you wonder how bad things have to get before the rest of the nation reads about them.
This one is on the front page of the Washington Post where Chico Harlan writes about “the best new opportunity in Wilcox County.” Egad!
~~~~~~~~This one, by Jon B. Carroll, reports on police officer whistleblowers from the Dothan Police Department who have turned over “hundreds of files from the Internal Affairs Division.”
I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about this very soon, as the whistleblowers “believe that there are currently nearly a thousand wrongful convictions resulting in felonies from the 20th Judicial District that are tied to planted drugs and weapons ….” “Specifically young black men who had clean records were targeted.”
Leaked Documents Reveal Dothan Police Department Planted Drugs on Young Black Men For Years, District Attorney Doug Valeska Complicit
The word for the day is stochastic. Many times events or data points that mean nothing by themselves, but together mean a lot are stochastic. Let’s see how we can use this in a sentence: this weekend’s attack on the Planned Parenthood was stochastic in nature. When Carly Fiorina uses a fake video to accuse Planned Parenthood of harvesting fetus limbs for profit (get your baby parts here!) , not only is she lying, she is stochastically increasing the odds of an attack by a mentally unstable individual who might believe her. One could argue that in addition to acting in bad faith, she is, wittingly or not, engaging in a form of terrorism that is stochastic in nature, triggering unstable individuals across the country to act on her false accusations based on a fake film that she continues to flog despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Is there other evidence of stochastic triggering? Why yes there is; thank you for asking.
When Donald Trump encourages racism against immigrants by suggesting that Mexico does not send their ‘best’ people, but rather “… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”… etc., despite a complete lack of evidence, (and plenty of evidence to the contrary), we might suggest that not only is Donald Trump lying, he is participating in a form of stochastic terrorism by encouraging weak minded individuals to act on his faulty assumptions. When Trump tries to defend this statement by doubling down and saying a month later, “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”… it can certainly tip the balance. Two men in Boston admitted they ambushed and brutally beat a homeless Latino man because they were “inspired” by Trump. Of course, Trump didn’t leave it at that. He also said that Muslim-Americans should be tracked, undocumented workers should be rounded up, and that a Black Lives Matter protester at his rally “maybe deserved to be roughed up.” Last August, when a man arrested for beating a homeless Latin man told police, “Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported,” Trump didn’t condemn the violence. Instead he said “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” Thus, enabling such behavior and even promoting it by designating as patriots those who are flat-out hooligans.
We can also think of stochastic in a reverse form, where multiple events can be attributed to a given phenomenon, but are not. Take climate change, for example. Each individual ‘storm of the century’ that has now become storm of the decade or even storm of the year is a discrete data point that, individually, does not directly impute man-made climate change but, in aggregate, these data points certainly do add up. That’s why the scientist converge with 99% plus certainty that man-made climate change is a real problem, even dabbling with the naming of our era the Anthropocene epoch—that is, our epoch begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystems. A bad snowstorm or drought does not equal man-made climate change. Years of record high temperatures and back-to-back droughts certainly do.
One last way we can use the term stochastic is in the very nature of the war on terror that we are purporting to battle but are actually inflaming. Again, it’s all about aggregate data. Like our homegrown disgruntled Planned Parenthood shooters and immigrant beaters, there will always be a small population of mentally unbalanced individuals for whom any agitation will be too much. The trick is to not grow their number. Thus policy makers and politicians would be advised to avoid inflammatory rhetoric; especially rhetoric which is patently false, like for example, accusing Planned Parenthood of harvesting body parts from fetuses, or accusing Mexico of sending us rapists.
We’ve already seen how this can lead to unnecessary violence. But the same principle holds true for military strategists and foreign affairs officers when they advocate using drones or our military when there can be significant civilian casualties. It’s a simple numbers game. Every accidental civilian death is someone’s brother or father or sister or mother. Every such death increases the likelihood that someone else will take up arms against our military presence or the ‘West’ in general. This is not rational, any more than attacking immigrants or Planned Parenthood workers is ‘rational’… but it is real. There is no better recruiting tool for ISIS than the death of innocent civilians by unmanned drones. There is no better propaganda to paint us as heartless monsters, and we do it to ourselves. Every mission gone wrong, every innocent civilian murdered by some robot in the sky only adds to the raging fury against us. But this is controllable, too, and that is the ultimate lesson for today. The term stochastic gives us a handle with which to understand – and lay responsibility for—everything from so called lone wolf attacks on our own soil to terrorism attacks abroad. It’s time we began paying attention to what those numbers are telling us.
~By Jack Johnson