Media's Direct Reporting Omits Deep Background

DDGrowing frustration exists about the role of global media in sharing the truth and facts about politics. Even the media’s cherished idea of balance has taken a slant. The American media’s direct reporting omits deep backgrounds. In print and broadcast, anonymous sources are assigned the duty of representing an ideology and attacking those who disagree. In live reports, face time is more important than oral intelligence. And no news broadcast is complete without a YouTube clip.

What recent stories has the media missed and how have the omissions affected the country?

The biggest missing story is about the media itself: it has abandoned analysis. Instead of being shaped by insights and history, or by conflict and values, stories are “blocked.” They are packaged for immediacy rather than viable information, and immediacy has come to mean any story which zooms in on a crisis in the social order, a threat to well-being or life.

Blocking a story means it will be limited to reviewing events without examining causes; limited by sensationalism that ignores the mainstream; limited by the next big story without any follow-up on the previous big story. But the story’s limits always include speculation, no-rules chatter about what happens next. Speculation, and its inaccurate prophecies, unleashed fears and violations of logic and common sense, is featured without critical review. By offering speculation, media abandons the idea of wrong or right; its stories are blocked to show who is for and who is against.

For example, in one recent big story about Ebola, a deadly, contagious virus spreading in three West African countries, media helped generated mass fear and hysteria in America. Justified by media stories, rather than experience, experts and successful protocol, civil liberties went flying out of the window faster than domestic cases of the disease, amid calls for restricted travel to and from the region.

States demanded medical professionals be quarantined even when displaying no obvious symptoms of fever and coughing. Twice-a-day telephone monitoring was put in place for persons returning from countries experiencing the Ebola epidemic. Hours of hard news time were devoted to tracking each single potential threat as the source of an impeding holocaust. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bad-mouthed a nurse who had demonstrated the courage to travel to the medical front to fight the disease by caring for infected patients.

In the midst of the Ebola fear, Congress members proclaimed the likelihood of legions of Ebola-infected terrorists arriving in Mexico, walking like zombies across unsecured borders—yet so heavily monitored by manpower and technology that enforcement agents intercepted nearly 40,000 unescorted children last year. Many of the same Congress members who conjured a deadly and imminent link between terrorists and Ebola believed this undocumented children’s crusade also had come to destroy the American way of life, stain the American Promise, and end freedom as we know it—by busting public budgets and demanding the right to education. Continue reading Media’s Direct Reporting Omits Deep Background

The State of the Union and America's Middle Class

DDIn the final two-year sprint of the Presidency that created the biggest political backlash since Reconstruction, one that reawakened ancient divisions of class and race, the State of the Union Address displayed the latest strategy of President Obama to avoid the traps, schisms and pitfalls in the road forward for his vision; a vision matched with peerless skills: his impeccable timing, his understated demeanor that lulls his opponents to be overconfident and underestimate his options and resolve, his deep knowledge of the power of small steps.

His sixth State of the Union speech unfolded his vision for this generation’s reset of the American Promise.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said. The troops are home, the economy is growing,  America’s jobs and energy production is “booming,” “10 million” uninsured have gained health insurance.

He noted his critics along the way said he was “misguided” and would “crush jobs,” and met him with “fiscal showdowns, government shutdowns, and re-fighting past battles.”

But in his speech, President Obama was clear: the American Promise means giving the middle class a fair share. This is the year of the middle class.

It is clear, by facts and anecdotes, the middle class has suffered more than the rich, having lost 67% of their net family wealth during the 2009 recession, many losing their homes and jobs and income along with their wealth.

“Families need our help,” the President said without misgivings. He detailed several laws and policies to come to their aid. Provide a tax credit for child care. Pass equal pay. Raise the minimum wage. Make two years of community college free and universal. Protect a free and open internet.

In foreign policy, to secure safety for American families, the President turned to the importance of values: “We stand united with people targeted by terrorists.” “Cuba policy was long past its expiration date.” Close Gitmo: “Why keep open a prison terrorists use to recruit?” Continue reading The State of the Union and America’s Middle Class

Prepare for the New Lie

DDI personally enjoy observing social behavior, looking for patterns, finding tendencies and connections at hidden levels that make things work they way they do. I have a fondness for truth and putting ideas to the test.

Which one of the two traits above make me unlikely to be a Republican?

Actually, both traits are at the heart of the Republican paradox—the idea that you can lie and win elections, that truth doesn’t matter, but correctly analyzing social behavior contributes to victory. Like the double helix of DNA, Republicans take these twin strands which seem to be at odds, and from their different functions create the twisting rungs of a winning strategy.

Democrats take heed.

For Republicans, lying is big business, especially for elected officials and media personnel. But the new lie is not the old lie.

The new lie incorporates new, multiple functions and has improved deniability and staying power. Among the most important of its new functions is that the new lie sanitizes itself. Newly sworn House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana is a practitioner and high expert of the new lie. He denied knowing he had once spoken to a white supremacist group organized under the patronage of Louisiana’s most famous white supremacist and former state senator, David Duke. The Scalise new lie: “I didn’t know who the group were or what the group stood for.” Could I have spoken to a group of Black Panthers in South Carolina and not known who they were? Continue reading Prepare for the New Lie

The GOP Strategy from Day One

DDOn day one, the new GOP-led Congress has inserted a House rule making a technical change in the way funds for Social Security disability are allocated. On day one, in its first act, before any legislation is introduced, in the very procedures of its operation, the GOP House has set dead aim, targeted, and is going after the nation’s cripples. I use the word “cripple” to reflect the GOP pejorative world view—their insensitivity and demeaning, brutish, lowered standard of human virtues and afflictions, their harsh, punitive, belittling, angry, mocking, power-mad oppression of the weak.

So on day one, the nation’s 8,956,000 disabled, along with 1,825,000 children of the disabled, will find their benefits at peril. What the new rule does is separate Social Security as retirement income from its function as disability income. The rule no longer permits the reallocation of monies from one fund to the other without Congressional approval. Right now, the disability trust fund is underfunded. It is at risk of expiring within the next year. The GOP rule blocked its automatic save; the retirement trust funds can keep both programs solvent, with no changes, until 2033.

So we see the unveiling of the GOP strategy: create and advance crises by using Congressional authority to squeeze and micro-manage safety net program funds. Use the same authority to eliminate regulations that control the greed of big business and the rich. Finally, expose the country to the pillage and theft of resources and end broad family prosperity by creating a government that both gives away and takes away benefits that increase growth, income, freedom, security and opportunity for individuals.

Reporter Michael Hiltzik writes in the Los Angeles Times about the social security rule change:

The rule change reflects the burgeoning demonization of disability recipients, a trend we’ve reported on in the past. it’s been fomented by conservative Republicans and abetted by sloppy reporting by institutions such as NPR and 60 Minutes.

Disability recipients are easily caricatured as malingering layabouts by politicians, academics and journalists too lazy to do their homework. They’ll say disability benefits are easy to obtain, so lavish they discourage work, and convenient substitutes for welfare payments. None of that is true.

Hiltzik’s article explains who receives benefits and how they qualify, dissembling the characteristic stereotypes the GOP desperately seeks to protect as it pretends to defend the retirement benefit.

Seal_of_the_United_States_Congress.svg

On the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate chamber, on day one Republicans introduced a bill to change the definition of “full-time worker” in the Affordable Care Act (ACA, widely known as Obamacare) from 35 hours to 40 hours a week. The bill quickly received loud criticism from arch-conservative pundits, including Bill Kristof. But the 40-hour redefinition will make it easier for businesses to exempt their employee’s from coverage without lowering productivity—by cutting just one hour a week from their labor schedule! This technical workaround is an example of the kind that will become common in the 114th Congress over the next two years. Continue reading The GOP Strategy from Day One

Race and the New Year

DDLet us not forget: the year will end with the Republican Speaker of the House giving his full support to a closet racist in the House leadership, who will hold the number three position, as Majority Whip. The Speaker issued a preemptive statement, intended to tamp down the growing furor over a speech the yet-to-be sworn Whip made ten years ago to a white supremacist organization’s convention, the group founded by his buddy and fellow politician, the former KKK Grand Wizard from Louisiana, David Duke.

Now, one speech doesn’t make you a racist. But one lie will. The new Whip has exceeded his quota. His lying about his ties to Duke and his speech make him a repeat offender. His lies include pretending not to know what the organization stood for. Does any politician at any level accept an invitation to speak without reviewing the goals, mission and agenda of the group before which he will appear? But more, Duke says the man soon to be the third highest ranking member of the House leadership knew exactly what the group stood for and knew of his own ties to its founding. So who is lying? The former Grand Wizard or the soon-to-be sworn Majority Whip?

Having renounced ten years late the goals and mission of the organization he voluntarily appeared before, the incoming Whip claimed higher ground, as a father, Catholic and leader. Then he supports voting rights, equal pay, Obamacare and raising the minimum wage? Well, no—but as a good Louisiana politician from a small, solid red district, not for racial reasons, but to preserve cost benefits for businesses, public fiscal integrity and personal liberty.

It’s hard to see the defense of liberty as offensive, or to abhor fiscal integrity and concern for small business. Surely, these positive goals are common to the American Promise and have little to do with race or racism, the ugliness of  denying equal opportunity, restricting persons by color and ethnicity, and using the law for the economic advantage of a specific group.

There is the greatness of the Republican party: it has honed the most shameful of political practices into a narrative that omits race as it confesses its love of American’s greatest traditions: liberty, integrity, prosperity! Boehner often uses this narrative even as he adds an element of blame; but not this week: the Whip was absolved of all sins left unconfessed for ten years and felt the fresh splash of the Speaker’s absolution.

Those who heard the Speaker’s words witnessed what the writer Karoli (read her at Crooks and Liars.com) calls “flag-wrapped racism,” racism concealed by being buried in patriotic promises in which the actual implementation of ideas limits and restricts opportunities by race. Patriotic racism ignores cause and effect and overweighs the balance of gain and loss to the benefit of one race or group. It narrows participation rather than broadening the paths of opportunity.

By wrapping the presumptive Whip’s speech in the flag, issuing a proclamation of forgiveness, and extending the stiff right hand of political fellowship, Boehner is also saying race is no longer a game-changer; it is a forgivable indiscretion even when associations “accidentally” involve speaking to white supremacists, or when the indiscretions are discovered when they are ten years old—or whenever they are discovered—they can be overlooked if denied, and blame shifts to the whistle-blowers, media and political opponents for raising old news, moot issues, and the unfair practice of citing racial views and associations as a litmus test of character. Continue reading Race and the New Year

Jumping the Thin Blue Line: Police, Death and Justice

DDThe media has abandoned the idea of a roundtable discussion with guests in actual dialogue, organized with a moderator who directs the conversation and highlights strong points of interest; this form is the most useful for a discussion that has the hot elements of race, murder, justice, protests, and the American world view that makes demagogues of some communities where crime is high.

To provide that discussion, I’m organizing my essay today as a dialogue, drawing from my comments and replies from the New York Times online. Limited in the Times by space, they are heavily edited and extended. You are invited to weigh in with your comments on Democrats for Progress. ~ Walter Rhett

Ow—Rep. Charlie Rangel makes very good sense! The fault for the shooting of two New York City police officers lies with one person. A nut with a gun. Often, mentally ill people who engage in shootings have issues with family, intimate relationships or authority, and make them targets.

Rather making the police targets, the demonstrations and protests have focused on the absence of justice and accountability. In Gabby Giffords’ case, a rush of politicians and spokespeople vehemently denied any connection between speech about violent revolution, images with target bullseyes superimposed on the faces of elected officials, rallies attended by people openly carrying a variety of guns. Many of those who denied a connection between speech and gun violence, calling the Giffords instance “isolated,” have now rushed to draw a line of cause and effect between protest (against violence!) and violence.

Protests aside, it is clear many New York City police have no respect for law and resist civilian control as they violate administrative rules and criminal codes at will. By abundant evidence: recall the $1,300 an officer in Brooklyn took in October from the shirt pocket of a person not in custody who was pepper-sprayed in the face. The person, in a park with several friends who are heard on camera demanding the police return the money, withdrew the money from his bank to celebrate his wife’s birthday later that evening. None of the other officers at the scene attempted to stop the illegal act, which was a deliberate theft (in New York, larceny). One pepper-sprayed his sister for protesting.

The same officer had been previously sued the year before for using excessive force.  The suit claimed the officer beat a citizen and, after kicking him in the throat, fractured his larynx. The city settled the case for $25,000. With no evidence of accountability, the police department claimed the money taken by the officer (also improper, as no arrest was made!) was properly vouchered as $62.

This week a Brooklyn phone video captured a plainclothes officer charging a youth in custody in front of officers and witnesses and striking several violent punches against the youth’s ribs and kidneys. The excessive and unnecessary use of force was ignored by the other officers on the scene. Going back, videos made during the Occupy movement demonstrations show wanton, excessive force to non-aggressive protesters.  The videos include beatings and the heavy, direct, almost gleeful use of chemicals.

The police would like us to believe that their violence really represents an abundance of caution because of the dangers of their jobs, but many of the police are out of control. They seek absolute power justified by the dangers they face—but too often their violence is not justified by the threat or the crime.

Sadly, the excessive force is ignored by other officers, which shows how deeply embedded is the egregious misconduct of officers who break the law, and then defend themselves by claiming to uphold it. The line has moved further and further and resists any checks or restraints. The rhetoric from many speaks to the ego, narcissism, isolationism that colors their world and permits illegal acts to gain tacit approval as the force closes ranks in silence and the command fails to make the lines clear.

I deeply regret the death of two of NYC’s finest, but it is not an excuse for more of the same. The law doesn’t belong in anybody’s hands, only its enforcement. There is a collective mindset by NYC police that they owe allegiance only to themselves and that they are the law rather than its servants. Closed minds, circular reasoning and exaggerated hyper-vigilance have created a core of undisciplined marauders no one is willing to take on.

“Blame society and the environment in which these officers have to do their job. Surrounded by savages armed to the teeth, what do you expect the police to do? They fight fire with fire. Like it or not. Let’s address how violent our society has become. How self-centered. How unwilling to follow even basic law if it interferes with what we want to do. Don’t blame the police. Blame society!”

“Savages”? Wow. My brother was a 25-year career officer in Columbus, Ohio, working 11 to 7 am, in the heart of the inner city (Main Street to Kelton); the location of every after-hours bar in the city, during the heart of the crack epidemic. The only thing he ever shot was a dog.

Blind labeling and dehumanizing individuals whose children go to school, grandmothers who lived all their lives on the street and who are beloved in their communities, single parents often working two low wages jobs is a ridiculous way of having an honest dialogue.

It’s sad you will never attend NYC’s Abyssinia Baptist Church, or have dinner at Marcus Samuelson’s The Red Rooster, or visit Strivers Row. Or go over to Brooklyn to attend music and dances performances at BAM (the Brooklyn Arts Museum). It’s disappointing that you know so little about a life and place you are so quick to condemn and alienate. The invective in your description shows both your judgment and perception are off, but how would you know? You don’t know, do you?

But like the police and others, you want all of us to buy into the we vs. them narrative, to believe all the right is on one side and the other side bears all the blame.

“It’s a sad day in America when a guy can’t even do a strong armed robbery of a store, attack a cop and try to get his gun, try a second time (according to witnesses, ballistics, forensics and such) without getting shot by a crazed, murderous, racist cop. A sad day indeed…”

It’s a sad day when satire and sarcasm replace humanity and hide an anger and outrage that burns inside to shut off reason: the “strong arm” was a petty thief (no weapon used; a case can be made for assault). Eyewitnesses dispute the police officer’s testimony and the evidence is contradictory—the testimony you cite was by a witness who had a history of racial bias and who, now, the prosecutor acknowledges lied and wasn’t present at the scene, but truth matters no more than compassion, only your mistaken willingness to amplify ineptness and/or irresponsible power into “crazed and murderous” and your refusal to see racism not in the police officer but in the system—the highly irregular way the grand jury was presented the case, even to presenting the grand jury the wrong law, which had been unconstitutional for 30+ years.

Not racism, but ignorance hidden by sarcasm; not sadness, but grief; we weep for those who can not see that a life is precious and should not be surrendered for stolen cigars, and that justice should be honest.

“‘Many police are out of control.’ And what do you base that generalization on? It is precisely this type of rhetoric that inflames the uneducated to assault police, as they did on the Brooklyn Bridge last week. Which by the way was not ‘alleged.’ it actually happened. While I think it’s a stretch to blame the Mayor, his statements have only served to heighten tensions. He might think about attending some classes in basic leadership instead of ‘conferring’ with the likes of Al Sharpton.”

I cited two examples above. I encourage further research. Videos are available across the web that include Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, NYC, Ohio, Texas, California and many other places. Note: of the two examples I provided, one is not a shooting or excessive force, but theft under the color of authority.

I’ll offer one example of how police have strayed dangerously from their training standards. My brother is federally certified in firearms. Standard police training calls for using deadly force in three-shot bursts, assess, and then fire additional three-shot groups if warranted. This concentrates focus on the target, improving the likelihood of an effective stop and reducing the possibility of civilian injuries. An empty clip means an officer was firing out of control, decreasing his effectiveness despite increasing the number of shots, while increasing the potential harm to civilians.

How many three-shots bursts were there in police shooting situations versus emptied clips? But in the current system, a choke hold doesn’t become a choke hold when presented to a grand jury. Negligence goes away, too. Historically, violence by police is sanitized of any crime. But that violence has increased and expanded across a line that confused selfish acts with the protection of liberty; not the selfishness of survival—to which we all can agree—but the selfishness of taking a life because empathy has been replaced with indifference and “serve” has become “subdue and stop or I will shoot.”

black-lives-matter

My earlier phrase, “out of control,” referred to the NYC police attitude, the creed in their bones that demagogues anyone who disagrees with the actions of police, no matter how clear the evidence; that makes crimes “tragic” rather than criminal because of technicalities or the freedom of subjective, singular judgment, and a culture that demands a blind eye by peers, enforced by supervisors, that exempts officers from being called out by other officers when they violate training standards or the law, establishing a blue line between a police culture incapable of policing itself when single incidents of force and theft have become the rule, as everybody—except the cameras of the public—looks the other way. Continue reading Jumping the Thin Blue Line: Police, Death and Justice

Murder and Theft

DDWitness Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience at its unimagined worst: a Congress in rebellion against itself and its oath, whose continual looting has brought inattention and cynicism to the treasures carefully hidden and being lifted out of its ruins. The powerful have long been known for the benefits that can be reclaimed from the trough of moral morass. Pull out freedom; its leverage becomes an element of theft.

Before any great political theft, the ground must be made ready. Money must be put in in order for money to be taken out. Politics must reach beyond logic and ignore facts and details to ignite passion, a passion tied to fear and prejudice that becomes push-pull factors that block and bend the attractions of voters and drive their preferences. A push-pull factor that combines fear and prejudice into a powerful package is death.

Death is a common bedfellow of politics. Death is the political spear of politicians. Its push-pull offers the satisfactions of blood lust to followers and offers a palate of fear that dismantles opponents. Other than martyrs, death defines losers.

Socrates’ sentence of suicide is a part of the politics of the ancient Greeks. Crowds in the 1800s gathered in festive moods outside of London’s Newgate Prison for hangings as vendors set up shop for food and sold relics of the hangman’s ropes. In Charleston, during this period, the heads of convicted slaves were mounted on wood columns at the foot of the city’s entry bridges as a warning and assurance to all who passed. These few examples are among the many ways civilizations dealt death as punishment and tried to prime the social environment for political theft.

The use of African-American deaths in politics begins with the journey of the Middle Passage from Africa to America; bodies were jettisoned during the Atlantic crossings, and these deaths incited rebellion and despair—and a raft of insurance claims. Later, the enslaved were hunted and murdered at night by special horseback patrols. The Civil War brought the Fort Pillow massacre; the blood spilled by black Union troops turned the Mississippi red. At Ebenezer Creek, in December 1864, 30 miles from Savannah, the bodies from a refugee train killed by Wheeler’s Cavalry dammed the creek.

After the Civil War came the organized, methodical killing of KKK units across the South; then came the mob violence of lynchings in which bodies were hanged and burned. The violence caused black schoolteacher and former Civil War nurse Susan King Taylor to write in her reminiscences:

In this “land of the free” we are burned, tortured, and denied a fair trial, murdered for any imaginary wrong conceived in the brain of the negro-hating white man. There is no redress for us from a government which promised to protect all under its flag. It seems a mystery to me. They say, “One flag, one nation, one country indivisible.” Is this true? Can we say this truthfully, when one race is allowed to burn, hang, and inflict the most horrible torture weekly, monthly, on another? No, we cannot sing “My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of Liberty”! It is hollow mockery. The Southland laws are all on the side of the white, and they do just as they like to the negro, whether in the right or not.

In 1923, a riot resulted in six blacks and two whites killed and destroyed the self-sufficient black town of Rosewood, Florida.

And then the Civil Rights movement came. It brought a new wave of white violence that targeted blacks: the deaths mounted, from the violent beating with a cotton weight that bashed in the skull and tore out the eye of visiting teenager Emmett Till, to the shooting on his porch of Mississippi NAACP President Medgar Evers, to the explosion that killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, four young girls attending Sunday school in a Birmingham Baptist church on September 15, 1963, to the three civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, killed less than a year later in June 1964, to three college students in South Carolina, killed on campus by state police at South Carolina State in February 1968. The name of the college’s basketball arena memorializes Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith.

From 1882 to 1968, over 3,400 blacks were lynched, killed in anger and hate, without due process, murdered by mobs and individuals that got away scot-free. And last week, in a rally across from the White House, caught on an open microphone, the cry to hang Obama was seconded by a voice that said, “He wouldn’t be the first.”

Death and theft are not separate in politics, but in America, death has been the throwaway; it launches a political payload and drops away. Texas executions, school massacre (there has been a school shooting every five day, on average, since Newton), street violence; in recent days, the misuse of police authority has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets from New York and Chicago to Berkeley and San Francisco to the stadiums of pro sports, where outraged police officials have demanded apologies but have sent none of their own to the families grieving from police killings. Not a single card of sorrow for their loss, not an expression (except for Ferguson and New York) of compassion or sympathy.

Death is a muscle memory in black communities. Every local town has an incident etched in memory.

Yet the effect of the grief and the lost of the dead themselves are denied. The dead are blamed for being killed while unarmed, blamed for being choked to death, shot to death, lied about, blamed for disobedience, until the primal taste of the lynch mob fills the mouths of those who cannot find a way to say, “I’m sorry.”

What guides the killings, expanded now to a global stage (this week: Pakistan, Australia), is a culture that revels in its hidden impulses. This era has seen the world’s largest sustained impulse for wealth. The heads of state of African countries (Angola, Nigeria) are billionaires. Fines for illegal conduct by big banks in the US run into the billions. Russia, once the world’s great communist regime, has billionaires sitting in its parliament. China, a socialist nation, has the world’s second largest number of billionaires, after the US. The world’s richest person is a Mexican business mogul who controls much of Latin America’s telecommunications and cell phone business. The sovereignty of Argentina is being threatened by US Federal Court judgments made on behalf of hedge funds that own large bundles of Argentina’s defaulted debt; the country’s President flies commercial when she leaves the country; an Argentine navy ship was seized but returned when it docked in Africa.

Within the global culture that desires and celebrates wealth is an out-of-control ideal expressed as greed. Greed argues for shortcuts to wealth: not work hard and climb the ladder, but kill and steal. Greed flourishes where there is destabilization. Killing weakens the bonds of the society’s structure. Insurgencies are getting rich. ISIL is the creation of this paradox.

Faith lost, and greed spreads. More die. It repeats again. Ancillary breakdowns of society occur. The irrational widespread fear of Ebola, and crowds of adults blocking buses of immigrant children who had reached our borders to stop their entry into facilities in their communities foretell a loss of inner strength and inner truth.

Through seemingly unconnected, death is one of the elements that sets the ground for greed and leads to theft. The connection is the way their interior values attract and repeal, push and pull.

The worst form of civil disobedience is robbery, the taking of what belongs to others by law or natural right. The law is broken when Congress or the crowd goes against government measures and protections and when the law itself becomes a tool to steal and rob, as it supposedly comforts our loss. Murder can occur only once in a life, but robbery can be repeated. When done under law, it is protected by force, and justified as stopping intrusion.

For example, out goes the cry: the Affordable Care Act robs us of the right of choice. But those insured clients dropped after the purchase of insurance were robbed of the right of choice in a time of need; at precisely the point where insurance took on greater importance and would provide security against health catastrophes and the cost of catastrophic illness, it vanished, without appeal or recourse.

The point here is political theft is often committed in the name of freedom, and this flag-wrapped theft often stands on bloody ground. But rarely are these connections direct. In modern cultures, blood money will have two phases, seemingly unconnected. The first destabilizes, the second resets the rules.

Witness the budget bill swiftly approved by the two chambers of Congress last week. After six years of destabilization, its resets included riders on potatoes, whole grains and salt in school lunches, on clean water, on truck drivers’ working hours, on farmers with livestock killed by wolves, and on campaign gifts, all passed without debate, swept forward, tucked in neatly with the $1.1 billion in spending that in some places was as much vendetta as budget.

Despite its size, the central issue of this mundane list of special interest riders is an overarching fact: its business-as-usual is destroying democracy. It places special interests beyond the reach of public accountability. It replaces Congress’ fear of discovery with the cold glare of indifference, and while it claims to condemn government as the enemy of business, it deliberately hides the use of government for gifts to business friends. The doors of democracy are unlocked to the rich. Those same doors are closed and sealed shut to the poor.

If government is the enemy, look again to find out who its friends are. Too often, it is those who criticize it as being the enemy. This blame and embrace is an old favorite of corruption. Cast the blame elsewhere; haul in the spoils. Continue reading Murder and Theft

How A Killer Got Away With Murder

DDNot protesters but the system of American justice is morally and intellectually out of control. Justice is in the hands of vigilantes who are brutes intent on robbing liberty without fear of rebuke, and America is proving false to its own promise, indifferent and deaf to its whirlwinds of cruelty. Much of America revels instead in the brutish delight that shines in its inner soul, as it calls others demons and reveals how it has lost its reverence for providence or truth.

With blood on its hands, it has no legitimacy lecturing the aggrieved about safety or destruction, when it has proven it will not protect the lives of youth unarmed, when its lust for killing spreads unchecked to every border, when a single prosecutor cloaked as an agent of authority manipulates the system and calls its darkest evils fair play, taking a measure of time to display a sentiment of contempt and arrogance, putting a default on liberty without life and improvement. Power pretends concessions as it silently approves citizens’ peril by emptying life from souls lying still against curbstones—bodies left in plain view for all to see the pride of termination taken in the kill and the madness of this accruing demand and the political taste for blood, blood to gratify an exasperated illogic, that bullets weighed on the scale of human powers make some unworthy and inferior, and that their general dislike warrants this impression and sanction of foul play.

Michael Brown’s death was a modern, “justified” lynching. Months after, his killer is uncharged.

Focus in: the local prosecutor, his father a police officer killed by a black civilian, his mother a police department clerk, his family still serving on the force, should have been immediately removed for a special prosecutor. The Governor failed to do so.

This prosecutor then took his knowledge of the system and created a secret jury that tried guilt and determined innocence before charges were brought. The roles of the participants reversed and switched, the grand jury did not take up the matter of guilt for trial, but began to try, by its impressions and its unchallengeable decision, whether the killer of Michael Brown, a police officer on duty, was innocent.

The prosecutor pressed the case and made clear the impression that Michael Brown’s killer had committed no crime. He did not present a bill of indictment to the grand jury. He never specified any offense—manslaughter or murder—or any degree—recklessness, negligence, maliciousness, intent—he as prosecutor supported by law, evidence or testimony of the killer’s actions or guilt.

In putting “all” of the evidence before the grand jury, the prosecutor actually selected what the grand jury would see in secret, changed its function, and presented the killer’s defense. This prosecutor went one step further. He made the case for the defense before an indictment or trial, by relinquishing the role of prosecutor as an advocate and adversary protecting the rights of the people.  In his abdication, he led the jury to protect the rights of the accused by rules of procedure, by questioning testimony, and by avoiding a rigorous presentation of both sides that a trial would bring.

To show how far off course was this prosecutor’s revolt, Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia disagrees with his ambitious use of the grand jury, as Justice Scalia firmly spelled out the role and purpose of the grand jury’s proceedings in a 1992 case (United States v. Williams), cited by ThinkProgress:

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of years.

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

This prosecutor instead paraded and coddled witnesses for the defendant (openly, and publicly calling those who disagreed liars and persons who “made stuff up!”). He let the killing officer testify for hours, and he avoided challenging or probing or any adversarial role—when it was beyond the scope and not the role of the grand jury to hear the officer’s statement in the first place!

One of the “believable” witnesses wrote in his diary that he always called black people “niggers,” including, according to his handwritten diary, the day he witnessed the shooting!

But the key moments come when the killer police officer himself testifies before the grand jury in secret, although the transcript is now released and public. It shows how a skilled, deft prosecutor disobeys his oath of office, abandons his role, and engages by discourse in a legal enterprise of shameless hypocrisy to take the evil and guilt away from a wrongful death.

Consider a few minor examples: think of the size of a car window, its height from the ground. Is it credible to believe that a 6’4″ man can strike blows through a car window and travel through an interior space restricted and obstructed by a steering wheel, to render his killer nearly unconscious by striking his right cheek? Not the left cheek, the side that actually faces the window, but the right cheek, the side of the face away from the window, which is turned and not positioned well for the direct impact of a punch, “a full swing.” The limited redness and swelling in the photograph and its wide area indicate the killer’s testimony is open to question—and doubt. The prosecutor raised none and asked for no explanation, despite the major inconsistency.

Oh, and why not roll the window up? Trapping Michael Brown’s arm?

If this minor description raises questions from common sense and appears to show exaggeration (or lying), how reliable will the killer police officer’s other statements be, especially when compared to eyewitnesses, one of whom was next to the man he shot dead?

In the middle of a fight with a police officer, would you, as the officer described, turn to a friend and say, “Here, hold these,” passing over a pack of cigarillos? Is this credible or surreal?

And from the novels of Herman Melville and the tradition of racial stereotyping, the twice-shot youth, “bulking up,” making a step or a hop from a disputed distance, is stuck by the final bullets that end his life, although he was known to be unarmed.

Well, maybe not. After fighting in the car, running away, being hit by bullets, the killer officer says, he appeared to be reaching (or reached) into his waistband (of his basketball shorts). Other witnesses, like his friend standing next to him, say it did not happen. His hands remained in view, either raised or at his sides. But the prosecutor says they “make stuff up.” No gun or weapon was found. Twelve shots were fired. One person died.

How was that death handled by the local police, fellow officers and colleagues of the killer, according to grand jury testimony, released after its decision? The Washington Post reports:

When Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.

Local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene.

Injuries to Wilson’s head caused by punches he said were thrown by Brown were photographed by a local detective at the Fraternal Order of Police building.

Maybe some people who testified did make “stuff” up.

The killer police officer told detectives at the scene he fired one shot from inside the car; before the grand jury, with the benefit and knowledge of physical evidence, confronted by the forensics, he remembered firing twice.

Critical of social media for questioning the killer’s account (Wilson has said he would do it again), the hideous prosecutor revolted law and understanding by releasing transcripts that left the no hope for justice from the state, and even shares how he suborned justice by its own hand; by the paradox of evil and choice that lies at the justice system’s crossroads. The prosecutor’s horrible choices failed to obtain an indictment, but he succeeded by his forfeit. Then he took a half-hour of live national television to indict the rest of us. Continue reading How a Killer Got Away with Murder

We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don't We Know Biomass?

DDThe US Congress perseverates. Its new leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, have it bad. John McCain holds its longest recognized precondition. It is incurable and resists every treatment. Perseveration is a state of thought and speech, a mindset on a loop that repeats and repeats and prolongs an action long after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased. Think Keystone XL. Think Keystone. A political mutation from the perseveration of Obamacare.

Perseveration is a dangerous condition. It is a frequent condition that infects terrorist leadership who carry it to inhuman extremes. At home, perseveration often occurs as a host/carrier relationship between politicians and the media. Media is highly susceptible to its effects and has created recent epidemics and panics that stem from the main condition. Fears of Ebola’s spread to US soil is one such recent incident. The grand jury verdict in Ferguson is now another.

Congressional Republicans are single-minded and love to perseverate. About the XL, they ring memes: “thousands of jobs,” thousands of jobs,” “thousand of jobs;” the loud repetition masking that the pipeline has many dirty little flaws—beginning with the misleading jobs claim. Perseverating Republicans have a wild XL jobs math that includes school crossing guards anywhere near trucks with XL equipment, the counter and register workers at the doughnut shops where the truck drivers have coffee, and the supermarket worker who sells the bread for their sandwiches and the banker who receives their mortgage.

Here’s a more accurate picture: As we know, XL pipeline construction jobs will be less than the number on any NJ-NY highrise, less than those involved in building the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The XL requires infrastructure (mainly grading, bed prep including stone and rock beds, drainage, installing braces), but is easy construction (mainly bolting and welding); these jobs will turn over swiftly as it builds out. The main impact will be in transportation and heavy equipment jobs (engaged hauling pipe sections, parts and instruments; then in lifting and positioning sections for installation, transferring and moving equipment and parts along the pipeline). Total new jobs: less than 500! New jobs lasting for more than six months: 150. Permanent jobs added to the economy: 50. Mainly for pipeline monitors, reading instruments and driving along to visually inspect the pipeline for damage and leaks.

The impact on refineries? The Texas Gulf refineries aren’t empty or idle. And no one proposes building new capacity. Net result: Jobs will remain constant; output will increase. China benefits. No tanker leaves Houston or Port Arthur empty.

The Washington Post says the economy adds the numbers of jobs provided by the XL every 10 minutes and nine seconds. Exactly the time it takes Republicans to perseverate about their lie of thousands.

The danger of perseveration is not only its exaggerated realities, but it how it pushes out new ideas and solutions and keeps them away from public attention.

Biomass is perhaps the most important green energy technology no one has heard of and for which Congress has not taken up a banner of support.

At its most basic, biomass is producing energy from organic matter; burning wood in a stove or fireplace, for example. At its most advanced, biomass energy is sustainable and an efficient recycler of bio products considered waste and left abandoned by lumber and agricultural industries. It is one of the most scalable of green technologies, and breakthroughs are happening swiftly, improving the process and dropping the costs of production and transmission.

biomass_graphic

Beaver Wood Energy, a Vermont company, reclaims forest waste from logging operations. Within a 50-mile circumference of its facilities site, 2.6 million tons of logs are harvested annually, leaving behind nearly a million tons of waste, mainly in the form of tree tops and branches stripped from the stem trucks to be used as timber in construction and craft. Continue reading We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don’t We Know Biomass?

A Time To Act

DDThe next Republican step will be to force President Obama to use the veto in a way that tanks Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Presidency. The GOP-led Senate will not be interested in passing any useful legislation. The Senate will function only as a political wedge, driving bills that the President will veto, but that will also be loaded with riders affixed to the GOP agenda.

With the McConnell Senate, President Obama will be consistently faced with the lesser of two evils, between which there won’t be a dime’s worth of difference. The Senate will turn his vetoes into a political wedge, often pointing to the issues from both sides, to create a circle of confusion.

Remember, the House rarely sent up a clean bill, whether on the debt or a continuing resolution—which is what led to the government shutdown in 2013—surprisingly never mentioned by Democratic candidates, who gave the GOP a free pass on one of the worst of its legislative disasters domestically and internationally, damaging US standing in every world capital. Expect no less from Democrats, nor any more from Republicans with their win in the Senate.

It seems throughout the election Democrats were thinking about offices; Republicans were thinking about power. Republicans used the very shadows they created (a do-nothing Congress, Obama!) and pretended to oppose it by feigning substance, taking even tougher stands on waste, debt, red tape and intrusion—all of which they created in the shadows, all of which had been reduced in the light. But no one among the Democrats attached this darkness to Republican names.

Only dark money was attached. Russ Choma, at NoOpenSecrets.org (part of the Center for Responsive Politics) writes:

The real story of the election’s campaign finance chapter was not which side had more resources, but that such a large chunk of the cost was paid for by a small group of ultra-wealthy donors using outside groups to bury voters with an avalanche of spending.”

OpenSecrets further noted:

Spending by outside groups fall in three categories: independent expenditureselectioneering communications and communication costs. The 2004 election marked a watershed moment in the use of independent expenditure to sway voters, with most of the new spending coming from the national party committees. The 2010 election marks the rise of a new political committee, dubbed “super PACs,” and officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals.

The center issued this chart that looks at combined totals: Continue reading A Time to Act