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
There are lots of opinions floating around about ISIS and which military strategy would be best to defeat it. Graeme Wood’s piece in the March Atlantic is an interesting one and very informative.
“One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding.”
But, for now and the long run, Gordon Brown (“prime minister of Britain from 2007 to 2010 and a U.N. special envoy for global education”) writes about a unique experiment already underway in Beirut.
[The strategy of the Islamic State is to “capture the rebelliousness of youth, their energy and idealism, and their readiness for self-sacrifice,” according to its own propaganda. Central to this worldview, as one former hostage held by young Islamic State extremists bore witness, is “the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims” and “that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and non-Muslims.”]
Here’s an article by Peter Dun that addresses Black Friday, material acquisition and the behavior of mindful thankfulness. I hope this Thanksgiving week is joyful and fulfilling for you and yours. Keep safe, watch the road, and try not to “blow through the turnoff.”
So Virginia is essentially a purple state: It has a GOP controlled legislature, featuring a madly lopsided majority in the lower House of Delegates and it controls 8 of the state’s 11 Congressional districts. Meanwhile, in recent years every time the Old Dominion gets to vote as an entirety, like say in presidential elections or for statewide office, the Democrats have won, which has led to the former capital of the Confederacy helping to elect the nation’s first African American President… twice, as well as both U.S. Senators the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General.
Virginia has large “red” sections including pretty much all of the Southside, the western part of the state, the Shenandoah Valley, much of the I-95 corridor between the Northern Virginia suburbs and Richmond. The Democrats control the cities and the inner suburbs. There is a name for this sort of thing: Blue islands in a Red sea, and there are all sorts of reasons for this. The country and the ex-urbs are a lot whiter than the cities, education levels and cultural richness tend to cluster around the urban areas. It is no secret that the cities tend to be more progressive than the outlying countryside with the sometime exception of the beach, Hampton, Tidewater and Newport News where the large number of military personnel can impact elections generally and particularly where defense based jobs are at stake.
So this raises the question: How is it that there are enough Democrats to elect Barack Obama… twice, and make Democratic political fixer and Clinton bag man Terry McAuliffe governor and yet not control the legislature and in fact not have much of a hope of controlling the legislature for years to come?
The answer is complex for sure. It involves certain oddities of Virginia government like the off-year election cycle that has the Commonwealth electing statewide offices the year after national elections which in turn affects voter turnout, the great bugaboo of the Democrats who won the state in the 2012 election when 71% of registered voters came out to give Obama a second term, but often struggles in down ticket races where likely Democratic voters, minorities, students and the working poor tend to stay home. Part of the problem is that the Democrat’s voter base is simply less motivated to come out than the ethnically homogenous, culturally and religiously similar Republican base who are often whipped into action by a media based, talk radio fueled, get out the vote apparatus that over the last couple decades has become very effective. It is an old saw that low voter turnout leads to Republican victories and vis versa. Toss in some attempts at legislative voter suppression, vote “caging,” Citizens United and the lack of any real campaign finance reform, super pacs and the tendency for incumbents to win, and we can begin to see why the GOP can rather easily resist what appears to be a majority statewide Democratic vote.
Going into the election, Republicans held a razor thin margin in the State Senate, 21-19. If they lost a seat to the Democrats the 20 -20 tie would have been broken by the Democratic Lieutenant Governor who would have cast the deciding vote. While several seats changed hands on November 3rd, in the end the split remained 21-19 and Republicans will decide on important committee appointments, budget priorities and judgeships for the next few years. It bears noting that of those 40 seats, the 19 seats the Democrats defended, none was lost. In the 12 races where Democrats actually faced an opponent, the margin of victory was an average of 60.9%. Of the 21 GOP controlled seats, 11 were contested and a Republican candidate won every seat by an average of 59.39%. In the House, where the GOP went into the election with a robust 68-32 seat supermajority the Democrats managed to drag 2 seats back into their column to bring the margin to 66-34, but once again it was the visible lack of any real movement among the legislators that catches the eye.
The Dems started election night with 32 seats, 21 of those seats were uncontested. Of the 11 contested seats, 1, the open second House district just north of Fredericksburg, was lost when Republican Mark Dudenhefer defeated Democrat Josh King by 125 votes in one of the few close elections of the night. While the GOP did lose 2 seats altogether, in neither the House nor the Senate for that matter did an incumbent who was actually on the ballot lose. Just over half the Seats in the Senate were contested, while in the House that number was just over 1/3.
At the Congressional level, where an otherwise purple swing state is represented by 8 Republicans and only 3 Democrats, a look at a map shows just how out of whack the system is.
Three small districts, 2 in the far north and 1 in the east of the Commonwealth serve to represent a Democratic electorate that routinely defeats Republicans at the statewide level, which brings us to the elephant in the voting booth, so to speak.
Gerrymandering, “to manipulate the boundaries (of an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class” is a problem that has existed in one form or another as long as there have been discreet, location-based elections. Democrats have and in some places may still use this time-honored recourse when the option is available. And there is little to no real argument that here in Virginia Republicans have been using the gerrymander to first establish and then maintain their massive lead at the local level.
In the case of Congressional District number 3, which is represented by Rep. Bobby Scott, the only African American Congressman from Virginia (African Americans make up around 20% of the state’s population), recent court rulings have acknowledged (as has the GOP), that that district was basically built to guarantee a safe seat for Scott, and more importantly several safe districts around 3 for Republicans. In other parts of the state, districts appear to have been spread, elongated and otherwise manipulated to create a few very blue districts, ensuring Republicans large majorities everywhere else. At the level of the State legislature in 2010 the GOP-controlled body produced a district map that virtually delivered the GA to the GOP for the next decade, if not longer.
Now these actions are under court scrutiny, and the Justice Department has attempted to invoke elements of the Voting Rights Act (although Republicans managed to cripple much of the enforcement sections of the law in recent Supreme Court rulings) in regard to Scott’s district on the basis that the gerrymander was based – as it most certainly was – on race, which is illegal. Unfortunately, we will have to wait and see if the gerrymandering for less racial and more politically practical reasons can survive the courts.
We at APV believe that at least part of the solution to the political games being played over redistricting would be a bipartisan commission that drew the lines based on population, proximity and other factors without input from politicians on either side of the aisle. Safe districts that look like political Rorschach tests only serve to depress an electorate that is already historically cynical about the democratic process. We will be watching the courts since the Republican GA has made it clear it has no interest in fixing this problem.
Here are some recent articles and resources:
-by Scott Price, APV President
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” ~L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
While the news stream is focused on one issue of importance, other critical issues are often under-reported. A peek behind the curtain this week reveals one such story by the editorial board of the New York Times.
“With each day that passes without a vote on Judge Restrepo and  other nominees, Republicans undermine the justice system, and the biggest victims are ordinary Americans who cannot count on fully functioning courts.”
Just in time for the Holiday season, Delegates Hugo, Gilbert, Habeeb, and Loupassi of the Virginia House of Delegates are calling on Governor McAuliffe to refuse the resettlement of Syrian refugees for the next two years. Delegate Hugo said that the legislation proposed is in response to recent terrorist attacks in France, “Before we can allow further resettlement in Virginia, we must have full confidence in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its procedures. Virginia is a welcoming state, but our first priority is the safety of our citizens.”
Of course, there is no evidence that Syrian refugees are the cause of any terrorist activities, certainly none in the United States.
Just to put a little skin on this story, here’s what’s actually going on in a Syrian refugee’s life.
“As the days passed [in Yarmouk, Syria], the shelling got heavier. Stray bullets came through their bathroom wall. One morning, Hassan woke Waed and told her they had to move downstairs into his parents’ apartment, where it was safer. She got up, closed the door, and went back to bed. “If you want to go, go,” she said. “This is my house, and I’m not leaving it.” She wasn’t trying to be a martyr; she just couldn’t let it go. No matter how rational it might have been to move, it was more comforting to close her own door to the world falling apart outside.
Regime snipers had set up on the rooftops. Several of the main streets of Yarmouk were now closed off like this, and when people had to cross them, they would dash across in a zigzag pattern to make themselves difficult targets.
She walked along the sidewalk, nervous yet determined. She and Hassan needed money to eat and the snipers targeted young men, so there was no way for him to work. Besides, there was almost no food for sale in Yarmouk anymore. The checkpoint blocked flour and gas from getting in. No one was allowed to bring in more than one bag of bread.
Rather than risk the checkpoint and its snipers, or wait for the intermittent UN aid packages, many started breaking into shuttered shops and abandoned houses to find something to eat. Within weeks, the camp’s complicated social hierarchy was obliterated. One neighbor of Waed’s parents, a well-respected historian, was now looting for bags of macaroni with his wife to feed their five-year-old twins. To cook them, Ghassan Shahabi and his family pulled doors and windows from abandoned apartments and lit a fire outside.
One night, it snowed, and people went outside to make snowmen. Ghassan, his wife, Siham, and their children were bundled up in blankets by a fire in the street, a warmer spot than their freezing apartment.
Ghassan and Siham grew hungrier. One day, they decided they couldn’t take it anymore. During the morning window when the checkpoint opened, they put the twins in their car, drove into the city, and bought 25 bags of bread. The next day, on their way back in, a soldier searched the car and found their stash. Only one bag goes in, he told them, and the car has to stay out of the camp. Siham and the kids got out of the car with their one bag, then a soldier called from the other side of the checkpoint.
“Ghassan Shahabi,” he shouted. “Never mind. It’s okay. Go ahead and come in with your car.” Maybe the soldier had seen the kids and had a change of heart? Siham and the girls got in the backseat. Ghassan drove ahead. A sniper bullet pierced the window and went straight into Ghassan’s back, and then the gas tank was hit and erupted in flames. Ghassan’s lifeless foot continued to press the gas pedal. The car drove a ways down Yarmouk Street and crashed into a wall. People rushed to pull the screaming kids out of the car. They buried Ghassan immediately.”
That’s when Siham decided she could no longer stay in Yarmouk, Syria. That’s where Siham’s life as a refugee begins.
“In the days that followed, Siham and the children gathered remnants of bread where they could find them and warmed them on the fire. After eight days, she decided, “If we die, we die. It’s better to die by sniper fire than by hunger.” They paid someone to drive them to the entrance of the camp. Snipers shot along the road, and when they got out of the car, they saw a man and a boy lying dead on the street. They ran to the checkpoint and got out. Eventually they found their way to Lebanon.”
10.8 million Syrians—half the population of the country—are now in need of humanitarian assistance.
This year, Germany committed to take in 25,500 refugees. Sweden has agreed to resettle 1,200. The United States has taken a mere 156 Syrian refugees, and according to a State Department spokesman, the majority of them applied before the crisis.
Now some 26 U.S. State Governors are attempting to block Syrian refugees from coming to the United States. It’s difficult to fathom the level of callousness involved in this decision driven primarily by fear, it seems, or worse some perverse political calculation that leaves starving people to starve during one of the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
An Internet Meme regarding the Christmas season and Middle Eastern refugees (a.k.a., Mary and Joseph seeking shelter from Herod’s horrific edict) seems appropriate as a reminder of what Christianity is supposed to be about–especially for a country that takes so much pride in its ostensible Christian behavior. Or maybe, more to the point, a famous quote by the secular Thomas Jefferson: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
~by Jack Johnson
We must end political gerrymandering, by Nicholas Mueller, cuts to the chase with common sense. “Under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, our votes must count on equal ground with every other vote. (…) If we, as Virginians, want our districts to grant equal voting power regardless of race or political affiliation, we must learn the lessons of this competition and change who is drawing the lines.”
Supreme Court takes up Virginia redistricting case However, now that the Supreme Court has agreed to review Virginia’s redistricting ping-pong ball, it’s hard to say what will happen. They might send it back down as indicated by a qualifying add-on: “whether appellants lack standing because none reside in or represent the only congressional district whose constitutionality is at issue in this case.”
When Mark Danner wrote about the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador that occurred way back in 1981, he included an anecdote that has stuck with me over the years. The El Mozote massacre in many ways compares in its horror to the recent attacks in Paris—although there were many more killed. By some estimates, the numbers easily quadruple the deaths in Paris. Somewhere between 730 and 800 civilians were slaughtered. But as in Paris, those who were murdered were innocent victims, not carrying arms or in uniform, merely going about their daily lives, hardly understanding how they would soon become fodder for America’s proxy war against Communism in El Salvador. As in Paris, the attacks were spread out over the entire village center, not just one family or one target. As in Paris, weapons included grenades and machine guns. As in Paris, the victims were going about their everyday life with no hint as to what would come although everyone knew that a low level war was going on, they didn’t think they’d be affected, at least not so violently, nor so soon.
In El Mozote, the villagers were rounded up and men were separated from women and children. The women were systematically raped and then shot; the men were shot out right. This took place over the course of one night. Such violence had become almost banal in the annals of the El Salvadoran war but El Mozote stood out because of its scale. And there was one other thing that Mark Danner caught in his description of the massacre for the New Yorker Magazine, an anecdote I still cannot shake.
There was a girl who had been raped many times during the course of the afternoon, and “through it all, while the other women of El Mozote had screamed and cried as if they had never had a man, this girl had sung hymns, strange evangelical songs, and she had kept right on singing, too, even after they had done what had to be done, and shot her in the chest. She had lain there on La Cruz with the blood flowing from her chest, and had kept on singing — a bit weaker than before, but still singing. And the soldiers, stupefied, had watched and pointed. Then they had grown tired of the game and shot her again, and she sang still, and their wonder began to turn to fear — until finally they had unsheathed their machetes and hacked through her neck, and at last the singing had stopped.
Now the soldiers argued about this. Some declared that the girl’s strange power proved that God existed. And that brought them back to the killing of the children.
‘There were a lot of differences among the soldiers about whether this had been a good thing or whether they shouldn’t have done it,’ the guide told me.”
One wonders at the nuances of such a debate.
Paris is not alone, of course. Just two days ago, two ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 230 in attacks on a heavily Shia Muslim community in Beirut. But there the victims of the ISIS attacks were characterized in the U.S. media as Hezbollah human shields and blamed for their own deaths based on the unfortunate coincidence of their geographical location. Some right-wing pundits even went so far as to justify the ISIS attacks because they were assumed to be aimed at Hezbollah.
There was also an ISIS massacre in Turkey in October of this year that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injured at a peaceful rally for a pro-Kurdish political party. Also, just this last September, our Saudi-led coalition bombed a Yemeni wedding killing 131 civilians, including 80 women.
Massacres are not news. Our bearing witness to massacres that we find especially piquant for whatever reason is news. Not that Paris isn’t horrific: it is. But so is a slaughtered wedding party in Yemen, so is 128 deaths in Turkey and the killing of innocents in Beirut. So is the massacre at El Mozote.
At the time of the atrocious 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda was a relatively small and isolated group. Middle Eastern expert, Dr. Juan Cole characterized them as minor players, hardly global threats, barely tribal threats. But the U.S.-led war and occupation of Iraq created conditions that allowed al-Qaeda to grow and metastasize, spreading from one militarized war zone to the next. ISIS grew out of the smoldering ruins of our petite bete, our sectarian plagued civil war in Iraq. Some of its key militants are ex-Baathists Sunnis from Saddam Hussein’s regime who were essentially disbanded and dis-empowered at the order of Donald Rumsfeld under the Bush administration. That’s why they are militarily effective. According to Foreign Affairs, “The Islamic State’s current leader, the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spent time in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. Cells organized in them, along with remnants of Saddam Hussein’s ousted secular-nationalist Ba’ath party, make up some of the Islamic State’s ranks.” Their feverish devotion to a rigid strain of Sunni Islam we can thank Saudi Arabia for—from which much of the funding also comes.
But how can we stop them? Well, we might try not paying them anymore, by cutting off their funding source. Reports out of Syria claim the ISIS militants are some of the best paid fighters in the region, earning $350 a month, a good pay for the area and their funding comes principally from Saudi sympathizers and oil sales. A recent issue of Foreign Affairs magazine notes that “Oil extraction constitutes the Islamic State’s largest source of income. The group is estimated to produce forty-four thousand barrels a day from Syrian wells and four thousand barrels a day from Iraqi ones. The group then sells the crude to truckers and middlemen, netting an estimated $1 to $3 million a day.”
The outcry against the attacks in Paris have been universal. I, too, condemn the senseless brutality, but in particular I like Charlie Hebdo’s response to the ISIS brutality (and, after all, that organization is well acquainted with the cruelty of such monstrous violence)… The magazine writes, “Paris is our capital. We love music, drunkenness, joy. For centuries lovers of death have tried to make us lose life’s flavour….
They never succeed.”
Tonight I am going to In Light at the Virginia Museum to celebrate art, life and beauty in a way a Parisian might. Or even an El Salvadoran girl might, one who died singing her last song of praise. The El Salvadoran soldiers argued that somehow “the girl’s strange power proved that God existed.”
Maybe so, maybe not, but as Charlie Hebdo puts it,
“Lovers of death, if God exists, he hates you. And you have already lost, both in heaven and on Earth.”