Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bizarro America

For weeks now, months really, I've been trying to figure out what the hell is happening in this country of mine. I've looked to history and my own experiences and I can see a few ghostly similarities.

Trump vs. Cruz
I kind of get what mainstream Republicans are feeling. A quarter century ago in local politics I knew two similar politicians. Bob Filner, who was briefly mayor of San Diego before a sexual harassment scandal destroyed his career, was crass, selfish, ruthless and also a political ally. Peter Navarro was seen by many as a progressive hero. But people who knew him, I had worked on two campaigns with him, universally loathed him.

Filner was like Trump, an egoist who would take your side if you first capitulated to him. Navarro was Cruz, someone who wanted all the things you did but was so thoroughly disgusting you'd rather lose than see that bastard win.

Conclusion:  I oddly sympathize with the horror that Republican elites view their party's leading candidates where winning seems like a worse outcome than losing.

Republicans Who Think They Can Work With Trump
Recently, some establishment Republicans have been hinting that they could moderate Trump after he is elected. This parallels eerily what Germans thought about another racist nationalist populist. When Hitler lost the campaign for German president he still had the largest party in the country. The winner, Paul Von Hindenburg, invited Hitler into the government as Chancellor. His thinking was that with Hitler in the government Hindenburg could control and moderate the firebrand and prevent him from causing trouble. But Hitler would not be moderated and within months he had turned the chancellorship into a dictatorship.

Conclusion: Anyone who thinks they can control Trump after the election is a blind fool.

FOX Debate Debacle
The story of Trump boycotting the next debate is like a circus freak show, hilarious and creepy all at once. People are comparing it to a professional wrestling act where bizarre story lines turn debased spectacle into low entertainment. The historian in me sees something worse. Trump is succeeding in belittling not just his opponents but the political party he is seeking to lead. It is the kind of spectacle that the Roman Emperor Caligula would have used to debase his peers in the Roman Senate, like forcing senators to wear slave tunics.

Conclusion: The Republic primary is no longer a political campaign but performance art designed to ridicule the entire country.

Twitter Campaign
1924 - The first presidential campaign where radio was used to reach voters. It didn't have a major effect.
1960 - First televised presidential debates. Some say Kennedy's cool, handsome demeanor opposed to Nixon's sweaty five o'clock shadow tipped the race to JFK.
2008 - First election where the internet may have decided the race. President Obama's skilled use of online fundraising and voter outreach was a deciding factor in his winning the Democratic nomination.

And now, this is the first election where the press doesn't matter, radio doesn't matter, even television doesn't matter. Donald Trump's campaign is centered on Twitter. The media used by celebrities to trumpet their egos in 140 characters or less is now the main media for political discourse. Forget policy papers, if your political positions can't be shrunk down to the size and sense of a Kardashian quote then you have no chance.

Conclusion: We are all screwed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Disappearing Lakes

When you're young you think that you're going to sail into a lovely lake of quietude and peace. This is profoundly untrue. ~ Doris Lessing
Hope you don't like lakes because many are disappearing from the face of the Earth.

Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee
Two of the most famous bodies of water in history are rapidly shrinking mostly due to drought and the diversion of the Jordan River to irrigation. The water level in the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) has dropped so low that water has to be pumped up hill into the Jordan River or that historic tourist attraction would be a dry wash now. As for the Dead Sea, in just fifty years the water level has dropped by over 100 feet and the surface area has shrunk by 40%.

Lake Chad
One upon a time (fifty years ago) Lake Chad was the third largest lake in Africa. Since then it has shrunk by 95%. Human consumption, over 30 million people live in the basin that drains into Lake Chad, and rapid desertification of the region are the main culprits.

Aral Sea
This was once the fourth largest lake in the world. It had a large fishing fleet tapping what seemed like an inexhaustible resource. Then came the Soviet Union. The Soviet government declared the lake worthless and diverted most of its water sources to growing cotton. Now it is four small salt lakes that, combined, amount to less than 20% of its former grandeur. Winds blowing across the naked lake bed kick up massive clouds of toxic chemicals and salts that kill both crops and children.

Great Lakes
In 2013 this dock on Lake Huron was 150 yards from the water.
Not now, but in the future the Great Lakes may be the big story of disappearing lakes. Twenty percent of the free flowing fresh water on Earth are in the Great Lakes and, in the last couple of decades, they have been getting smaller. So far, the drop is a few dozen inches not the several score feet of the previous lakes. Last year saw a, perhaps brief, return of lake levels. Some of the blame is being laid on the dredging of St. Clair River to accommodate freighter traffic that has accelerate the outflow of water from Lake Huron. Add in diversions and climate change and nobody knows what the future of these lakes will be.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Alaskan White Trash

I've resisted writing about the most famous hillbilly family in history, the Palins, for as long as I can. But they forced my hand.

Sarah "Caribou Barbie" Palin
She has endorsed Donald Trump. Trump has already proven that even billions of dollars can't turn reprobate trash into a gentleman. To Sarah, he is a kindred spirit. They share a hatred of humanity and an overwhelming belief that, no matter how much they have, the world owes them more, more, more, more. They also share a speaking style that is best described as illiterate. Sarah flew to Iowa for this endorsement while her eldest son was rotting in jail.

Track Palin
In typical trailer trash fashion, Track knocking up his first wife six months before marrying her and then divorced her 18 months after taking the vows. She got the baby; he got the guns. He is rumored to be a drug abuser. He has recently been shacking up with chippy in his mother's house. On Jan. 18, 2016, he got smashed (blood alcohol .189), roughed up his girl, and allegedly threatened to shoot himself.  He got his ass thrown in the Wasilla jail.

Mommy Sarah blames Track's fucked up life on President Obama who gave her son PTSD while serving in Iraq in 2008 under then president George Bush. The sister of Bristol Palin's baby daddy says that Sarah forced her son into the military to hide his drug use from the media during her Veep run.

Bristol Palin
Aw, Bristol. She has made a million dollars as a spokesperson for abstinence-only policies. Her religious practice of abstinence has been so strict she has had only two out of wedlock babies. By trailer trash standards, she's practically a virgin.

The Brawl
In 2014, the entire Palin family started a drunken brawl. It was your typical white trash brawl. Teeth lost, ribs broken, a drunken slut (Bristol) throwing the first punch. But, while the Palin's are trash they are also Republican royalty. All criminal assault and public drunkenness charges magically disappeared.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Birtherism Thru History

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President. ~ U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1
If Ted Cruz is elected president then he would be the first president in American history born outside the boundaries of the United States or the British colonies that formed the United States at its founding. That doesn't mean there haven't been many claims made by presidential opponents that their births are questionable.

Thomas Jefferson
The hatred between the Federalists, led by John Adams (r), and the Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson (l), was bitter. Adams supporters claimed Jefferson was not the son of Virginia planter Peter Jefferson and his English-born wife Jane but was the illegitimate child of a "half-breed Indian squaw and a mulatto father" and hence not a citizen.

Andrew Jackson
Jackson is a twofer. During his life opponents questioned both his race and where he was born. Jackson's mother, it was said, was a prostitute who married a black man and Andrew's older brother had been sold into slavery. In fact, his parents were Irish and immigrated in the American colonies in 1765. Andrew was born two years later.

That leads us to the first true birther attack. His opponents charged Andrew was actually born aboard the boat and is therefore not a "natural born citizen." Of course, Jackson was a citizen at the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, so that charge is meaningless.

Abraham Lincoln
The bitter race politics of the Civil War of course led to the charge that the leader of the anti-slave Union was actually a n****r. This canard was probably as popular then as the ludicrous charges that President Obama is a secret Muslim are today.

A South Carolina newspaper described Lincoln as "a lank-sided Yankee of the uncomeliest visage, and of the dirtiest complexion." Political cartoons would characterize Lincoln as a monkey. Even today white supremacists attack Lincoln with the N-word.

Chester Alan Arthur
Another pure birther attack. Arthur was picked as Garfield's vice-president purely because of his connection to the corrupt
Roscoe Conkling machine in New York. Arthur's family had a vagabond life around Vermont in the 1820's, mostly because his father's rabid abolitionist views kept getting him fired.

Opponents of Arthur charged that, during the family's travels, Chester had been born while his family had been across the border in Canada.

Non-President Questions
Barry Goldwater was born in territorial Arizona three years before it became a state. There was no serious question that this was disqualifying although it was mentioned occasionally.

George Romney was born in Mexico of parents who had been born in territorial Utah. Legal scholars said it was a non-issue. It never got a chance to be seriously discussed because Romney dropped out of the race before any delegates were selected.

John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone and received a congressional resolution declaring him constitutionally eligible.

And Now Cruz
For two hundred years courts have avoided defining who is eligible to be president. They consider it a political matter to be decided by legislators or voters. They won't touch the Cruz question.

Cruz most closely resembles George Romney's case. His family voluntarily emigrated from the United States with the intent of permanently living in a foreign country. Romney's family only returned to the US as refugees from the violence of the Mexican Revolution. Cruz's family only returned to the US as economic refugees because they couldn't make it in Calgary.

Both of Romney's parents were American citizens and neither became Mexican citizens. Only one of Cruz's parents was an American citizen and they both became citizens of Canada. George Romney was never granted Mexican citizenship. Ted Cruz was a legal citizen of Canada from his birth until he renounced it in 2014.

Is Cruz a natural born Citizen?
Legally, probably yes. Politically, probably no. The fact that he has held duel citizenship for almost all of his life makes Cruz, at best, a dangerous precedent. What if the next duel citizen candidate has more loyalty to his birth country than his adopted country?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Presidential Odds

We are three weeks from the most important meaningless event in American politics, the Iowa Caucus. The last two rounds saw Iowa Republicans choose Presidents Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum so we know it always predicts correctly.

Winning the Iowa Caucus is as significant in choosing presidents as winning the State Fair pie baking contest. And much less tasty. Really, who wouldn't prefer a warm berry pie to Rafael "Ted" Cruz?

The Red odds are from the Paddy Power betting board; Blue odds are my own.

What a mess this field is, a bunch of lame and sickly horses.

Donald Trump 3 to 1 (1.75 to 1)
I once described Donald as the disease-ridden crack whore you might fuck during the summer but not the one you'd want to marry. Well, it's winter and his polling numbers are improving. But he is so hated by Republican power brokers that the official response to the SOTU address was mostly an attack on Trump.

Ted Cruz 4 to 1 (2.75 to 1)
Perhaps even more hated than Trump. Other foreign-born candidates, John McCain and George Romney, got bipartisan declarations that they were eligible for the office.  The growing Cruz Birther movement is being greeted with tacit agreement or sly none-of-my-business comments from his Senate colleagues.

Marco Rubio 6 to 1 (2 to 1)
Supposed to be the Great Establishment Hope but looks out of his depths. Prone to rookie mistakes like vowing to filibuster the omnibus spending bill and then not even bothering to show up and vote against it.

Paul Ryan 6 to 1 -- Mitt Romney 10 to 1 (unlisted)
If the Establishment can get to a brokered convention and Rubio continues to look childlike then these are the likeliest dark horses. Paired with a female veep, either Nikki Haley or Susana Martinez, and we have the kind of dream team the Establishment was hoping for at the start of last year.

Jeb Bush 8 to 1 (9 to 1)
Someone, referring to Bush, recently said that money has to count for something. But, wherever his super PAC has spent big money advertising Bush's poll number have dropped in response. Jeb once expected a coronation, now he talks about not surrendering to the Republican peasantry.

John Kasich 10 to 1 (100 to 1) - Chris Christie 16 to 1 (16 to 1)
Both have a slim chance of rising from deserved obscurity. Kasich's debate performances have been dismal but both are working hard in New Hampshire and if one of them can pull off an upset the billionaires might just throw their fortunes at him.

The rest of the field will see their snowballs chances melt long before they can get them into Hell.


Hillary Clinton 1 to 2 (1 to 6) - Bernie Sanders 2 to 1 (3.5 to 1)
I love Bernie, but....Even if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire he lacks the resources to compete nationally with Clinton. In an existence with an infinite number of universes, Bernie would win in many of them, but not most of them.

Martin O'Malley 50 to 1 (100 to 1)
If Hillary gets indicted and Bernie falls ill then Martin has a chance.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Law and Order: Part Two, Prosecutors and Judges

There are good and just district attorneys and judges but my experience from outside the dock is that the system is chock full of unskilled and even corrupt people in both positions. As a juror, I've seen a judge fall asleep on the bench. I've know of one man who lost a legislative election and was appointed to a judgeship because he needed a job. I've seen a district attorney prosecute a man he knew was innocent as a favor to a friend.
It is not a Justice System. It is just a system. ~ Bob Enyart

Normally a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it to. ~ Chuck Robb

Judges are but men, and are swayed like other men by vehement prejudices. This is corruption in reality, give it whatever other name you please. ~ David Dudley Field

Capital punishment turns the state into a murderer. But imprisonment turns the state into a gay dungeon-master. ~ Jesse Jackson
Keeping Score
Ethics codes say that prosecutors should seek justice not convictions for their own sake. Yet district attorneys are all about keeping score. San Diego's DA Bonnie Dumanis is always touting her office's conviction rate, like that's a good thing. To her, and most other DAs, getting convictions is the only goal. If coercing plea deals from innocent people boost her stats then that's what she'll do.

Police Infallibility
No one is more vested in the concept that the police are incapable of error than district attorneys. To get their inflated statistics it is vital that courts see the police as godlike. That means corrupt or violent cops have to be given free passes lest the bad apples taint the public's unquestioning belief in police perfection.

My Friend, the Judge
Also vital to keeping an inflated conviction rate is insuring that the judge is your friend. The Orange County District Attorneys Office is about as corrupt as they come. For years they have been hiding exculpatory evidence to convict innocent people. In 2014, an actually honest judge, Thomas Goethals, discovered the tip of that scandal. Since then, the DA's office has repeatedly disqualifying Judge Goethals from hearing cases. This is common. DAs across the country will blackball judges who are insufficiently subservient to the prosecution.

Judge In My Pocket
For every Thomas Goethals there is a Judge Mark Ciavarella. Ciavarella, if you forgot, is one of the Pennsylvania judges who took bribes to sentence juveniles to for-profit prisons. Because most judges face elections, one way to legally buy justice is to elect your own judge. Massey Energy CEO Dan Blankenship paid over $3 million to elect West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin. Benjamin repaid that debt by being the deciding vote in a lawsuit Massey was involved in. Or, you can hire a judge's relative and funnel bribes that way. Clarence Thomas' wife has been hired to lobby her husband on several cases.

Friday, January 08, 2016

How to Make Money in Police Work

Busy times, so before I go to Law and Order: Part Two here is a story of a police force dedicated to income generation or, if you prefer, police as a criminal enterprise.
The police force of Bal Harbour, Florida was expected to pay its own way with little taxpayer support. Speeding tickets weren't going to cover the budget so, along with the Glades County Sheriff's Office they set up an operation to tap into the free-wheeling drug money circulating in nearby Miami.

The police set up a money laundering operation to service the South Florida drug industry. Whether there was, initially, some noble law enforcement intent is debatable. Whatever, the officers quickly realized the money was big and sweet and the only way to fuck things up was to actually arrest anybody.

In two years, they cleaned up over $55 million in illegal cash for the cartels. The police departments officially pocketed $2.4 million in profits. The individual officers seem to have skimmed another $1.3 million dollars for their personal use. Other reports say up to $12 million is missing. During that time absolutely no arrests were made and many of the businesses the police laundered for are still in operation.

The Feds slapped Bal Harbour for using the laundered money to pay police salaries but ignored the greater operation until the Miami-Herald last year blew the cover off the whole sorted mess. With the enterprise known publicly, the Feds must now at least appear to be investigating. Some people have and will be fired but I suspect no one will be indicted.

Bless your naive little heart if you believe this is one, isolated, rogue police department. Until the affair became public, the Department of Justice's only concern about the illegal activities was some sloppy bookkeeping. This type of operation is so pervasive the DOJ is mostly interested in getting their cut. Stopping it would be a career killer for any FBI agent who tries.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Law and Order: Part One, the Police

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories. ~ Law and Order opening narration
A basic tenet of the criminal justice system is that the police are infallible. They are upstanding and true, they never make mistakes or lie under oath. Police crime labs are miracles of science that can deduce the absolute truth from the tiniest speck of evidence and never, ever falsify their results.

Those are fairy tales, of course. Police want to "get the bad guys" so they will lie if the facts are insufficient for a conviction. Or they made mistakes or panicked and shot an unarmed child and are covering their asses. Crime lab techs are not top of their field scientists (sorry Abby Sciuto) but people who couldn't get good paying jobs in the private sector. They make mistakes all the time and occasionally just fabricate their results because convictions matter over truth.

DNA tests are touted by the FBI as accurate to 1 in 108 trillion but when you factor in the skill of the technicians and the fact they analyze chemical replications of the sample, the accuracy is probably closer to 10,000 to one. Fingerprint reliability is even worse. Yet we citizens are taught that both are totally infallible.

The Blue Wall
Nothing makes a police officer lie more freely and brazenly than covering for the criminal activities of a brother officer. Police are trained from their first days that theirs is a brotherhood, like the Mafia, and that their first responsibility is to protect their brothers up to and including covering up murder.

Income Generators
In many jurisdictions, patrol officers are expected to earn their salaries through writing traffic tickets. In Estelline, TX (above) moving violation citations are a major source of revenue for the city. Taking bribes from drug dealers won't get you canned, but failing to meet your ticket quota is a fireable offense.

The concept of civil forfeiture has greatly upped the ante on using police as an income generator for municipalities. While some states require criminal convictions to seize assets, in many other states an unsubstantiated charge never proven in court is sufficient for the police the take cash, cars, boats, and any other property they want. Economist Frédéric Bastiatthe has described it as the "conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder." Which makes police little more than government authorized pirates.

Take a tank, stencil the words "rescue vehicle" on it and it is still a military vehicle. SWAT was originally designed as a small detail of specially trained officers who would be called into service on those rare times when patrol officers were outgunned. Now, SWAT has become the military arm of the police and is used for everything from serving misdemeanor warrants to bashing in the door of people whose property the police want to seize (see above).

There are over 80,000 SWAT raids a year, some 75,000 of these are unnecessary uses of force. They are so frequent that mistakes are common. SWAT has raided the wrong houses, killed innocents, and even led to the needless death of police officers.

Jobs for Psychopaths
Most police are not psychopaths, many psychopaths can't accept the discipline of police work. But for those who can, a career in law enforcement is perfect. Want a job where you can legally bully people? Want a job where you can lie, cheat, and steal with impunity? Want a job where you can beat the shit out of innocent people and receive congratulations from others? Want a job where once, maybe twice in your life you can up and murder someone with no consequences just because you feel like it? Then police work may be for you.
analyzed is but a chemical replication
analyzed is but a chemical replication

Monday, January 04, 2016

America the Beautiful - In Pictures

O beautiful for spacious skies,
Predator drone with hellfire missiles
For amber waves of grain,*
More evil than will fit in a caption.
For purple mountain majesties
Bingham Canyon copper mine, Utah
 Above the fruited plain!
1911 ad for the sale of lands stolen from Native Americans.
1921 Ku Klux Klan rally outside Chicago.
Little has changed in 95 years.
God shed his grace on thee,
Tennessee mosque vandalized.
And crown thy good
After shooting an unarmed man, a South Carolina policeman watched him slowly die.
With brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Louisiana coast, 2010.

* Monsanto has made a fortune from creating genetically modified seeds. These modifications pollute organic farms through a little know process called pollination. Organic farmers have unsuccessfully sued Monsanto for corrupting their crops. Monsanto, in turn has successfully sued organic farmers for patent infringement when Monsanto created genomes show up in their crops. That is but the tip of the iceberg of Monsanto evilness.

In 2015, Congress pass the so-called Monsanto Protection Act making it illegal to sue companies creating genetically engineered crops for any illnesses, deaths, or damages those crops cause.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2016: Into the Abyss

When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Welcome to 2016, a year with the potential to be historic in a way our posterity will curse for centuries to come.

Rebirth of Fascism
Donald Trump hasn't just moved the Overton Window regarding fascism, he has seismically shifted it. His call to expel 11 million people from the country was greeted enthusiastically by racists from coast to coast. His deliberate use of Nazi soldiers in an early campaign ad was a clear dog whistle for neo-Nazis that he was one of them. As his outrages have become more and more outrageous each previous unthinkable stance has been mainstreamed. The hate filled fascist-lite Ted Cruz is now being touted as a moderate alternative to Trump.

But it is not just the United States that has seen a growth of fascism. France's National Front, which is both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim, got a plurality of votes in the first round of regional elections in early December. All of Europe has seen a surge of fascist party support in recent years.

Anti-Science Idiots
As the effects of global climate change become obvious politicians have stepped up their denials of basic facts. Running second to Trump in the Republican presidential race is a man aggressively attacks all forms of scientific research or thought.

Return of Jim Crow
Mississippi first requires driver's license or equivalent to vote. They then closed the offices issuing those documents in African-American communities. The Supreme Court is striking down voting rights and civil rights at every opportunity. Police shooting of unarmed black men and even black children has been effectively legalized and has become a 21st century version of lynching.