Friday, November 28, 2014

A Holiday Season Boycott


In his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis stated that it is impossible to remedy the fact that one is going in the wrong direction by continuing in the same direction. Repentance consists of turning around and retracing one's steps in order to travel in the right direction.

The United States, a nation founded on oppression and bloodshed from its very beginnings, finally began to come to its senses during the 1960's and 1970's, as a result of massive protests against violations of the civil rights of its oppressed classes, both at home and abroad. But almost from the moment the ink began to dry on the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960's, the holders of concentrated economic and political power and privilege in this country began plotting to tear apart the civil rights gains that were achieved. They began plotting to reverse the U-turn which American society had begun to make. They began plotting during a time of plenty for the nation as a whole, a high point of resource availability and economic power, thus giving the lie to the notion that societies become fascist and oppressive only during times of leanness and economic contraction. They plotted thus and have continued to plot and to act on their plots over a period of more than five decades, thus showing the pathology of their plotting minds.

This week it looks like these plotters have won – among whom are Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, the Bush family, Rupert Murdoch, Charles and David Koch, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Giuliani, Charles Butt (son of Howard E. Butt, the owner of a large supermarket chain) and a whole host of fellow-traveler multimillionaires and billionaires. And the Republican Party is a revived, rampaging beast, seeking to dominate the world in the name of a hypocrisy masquerading as a theocracy. But all hope is not lost. In a post I made last week, my last prediction regarding events in Ferguson, Missouri is that I expected many disenfranchised people in this country to become quite creative in the art of passive rebellion.

And that is just what is happening. Many, not only African-Americans but others as well, sick to death of being oppressed by narcissistic, sociopathic supremacists, have decided to strike back in a way that is both non-violent and perfectly street-legal. Today, many of us are celebrating Blackout Black Friday, a day in which we are boycotting all the sales at retail outlets trying to move commercial trash. Many of us have pledged that we will not spend one dime today. (Disclosure: I am at Starbucks typing this. But that's because over two years ago, I swore off paid Internet service. Once I'm done here, I'm done spending money.)

I hope Blackout Black Friday is a roaring success. However, I think we should extend our boycott to the entire holiday season. And here's what I mean. I know we all need groceries. But let's swear off buying anything other that what is needed for everyday life. Let's forgo buying toys of any kind, whether toys for kids or toys for grown-ups. If your TV breaks between now and New Years, take it as a sign that you should give up watching TV. If your computer breaks between now and New Years, find a used computer or borrow someone else's. If the phone you have now still makes phone calls, don't upgrade it. Trust me, you don't need more consumer electronics. Let those who still drink the Kool-Aid of supremacy take on the burden of trying to save this shopping season. Let's see what happens when they max out their credit cards.

If such a boycott really takes off, expect whining multimillionaires to dominate the airwaves complaining about how we're “hurting the economy” and “depriving people of holiday celebrations.” I have an answer for that also. If you still feel the need to give gifts to people this season, then give food to the hungry. Extend hospitality to the widows, the orphans and the strangers – especially the dark-skinned strangers from foreign countries who have come here because economic and military policies of the United States jacked up their former homelands. A hot meal is always in season.

In short, let's have a holiday season devoid of materialism. For those who are Christians, let us return to a pure celebration of the birth of Christ, and let us remember His concern for the oppressed, laid out in Matthew 25:31-46. For those who are Jewish, remember the God who commands His people to care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger; and remember that God is not a “respecter of persons.” For those who are not religious, remember that you are connected to your fellow man, and that “an injustice against one is an injustice against all.” Take time this season to reconnect with your fellow human beings.

A good place to boycott is Wal-Mart, where John Crawford was shot to death by police in Ohio in August for buying a toy pellet gun for his children. Some good toys to boycott include pellet guns from any and all manufacturers because of the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police while he was playing with a pellet gun in a public park. (Here is a list of more shootings that have taken place since Michael Brown was shot to death.) A good company to boycott is Emerson Electric, which is headquartered in Ferguson, Missouri, and which manufactures appliances and tools under the ClosetMaid, InSinkErator, Metro, ProTeam, RIDGID, and WORKSHOP brands. Some good entertainment to boycott includes all sports events (including all bowl games), all celebrity shows, all movies, and any other entertainment designed to distract us from the horrible injustice we are seeing in the “greatest nation on earth.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Michael Brown as a Rorschach Test


Well, it looks like my powers of prediction regarding Michael Brown were pretty good so far. (This doesn't make me very happy.) Then again, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how things would go. But what has been interesting to me (in an unpleasant way) is the discussions of the verdict and its aftermath, both on-line and in person, in which I have been involved this week.

First, there is a widely spread rumor that has been accepted as Gospel truth, that Michael Brown was stopped by Darren Wilson after robbing a convenience store. For those who believe this, allow me to point out the following facts:
  1. Michael Brown was not stopped by Officer Wilson for being a suspect in a convenience store robbery. At the time Brown was stopped, Wilson did not know of the alleged robbery of the convenience store which Brown is accused of robbing. (Source: http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/08/15/ferguson-chief-officer-didnt-know-about-robbery/14124259/)
  2. The video which purports to show Brown robbing the store is of such poor quality that no faces can be recognized in it. (Source: http://thewellrundry.blogspot.com/2014/08/how-to-digitally-fake-video-or-they.html)
  3. The employees of the store allegedly robbed by Brown have admitted that they made no 911 calls regarding a robbery on the day that Brown was shot. (Source: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/18/1322560/-Ferguson-Store-Owner-Says-NO-ONE-From-His-Store-Called-Cops-To-Report-Cigar-Theft)
  4. Michael Brown had no criminal record on the day he was shot. (Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/michael-brown-no-record/14041457/)
Lastly, no cigars were found on Michael Brown's body or on the ground next to him after he was shot dead.
 
But one interesting element in all these facts is that either they have been buried under a flood of right-wing propaganda and scapegoating, or that many people don't want to hear them in the first place. When people only see what they want to see, it's always a sign of an underlying issue of character or personality. So allow me to suggest that Michael Brown has become something of a Rorschach test for the American public. In this, he is like Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, ISIS, and Vietnam, except that what happened to him hits a lot closer to home. If the Rorschach test is supposed to differentiate between sanity and insanity, then the United States has been badly failing over most of its history. And times are coming – in fact, they are already here – in which we'll need all the sane people we can muster, because of the consequences of a failure of sanity among many members of the general public, who continue to believe that we can continue to scapegoat those who are crushed by the cowboy conquistadores of this country in their search for a little more Lebensraum.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The High Cost of Living Room


Many people in the United States are anxiously awaiting the announcement of the grand jury verdict in the case of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. It's interesting that several weeks ago, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder resigned from President Obama's cabinet. And it's also interesting that a number of law enforcement agencies are “preparing for the worst”: to wit, the Department of Homeland Security, the Missouri National Guard, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others.

This leads me to make a prediction. First, I expect the grand jury to refuse to indict Officer Wilson. Secondly, I expect that the authorities, from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon downward, along with President Obama, to have known all along that this is how the verdict would turn out. Third, I do not expect the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Officer Wilson or the Ferguson police department. Fourth, I expect protests to result from these things. But while the protests will be largely peaceful, the response of those who hold power will be anything but peaceful. Thus the rest of the world will get to see a fresh display of the hypocrisy United States, which is busy bombing and killing other nations in their quest to bring “democracy” and “human rights” to those nations.

Fifth, I expect a flood of right-wing commentary from the blogosphere, as well as some rather surprisingly right-wing comments from people who brand themselves as “left of center.” The commentary will seek to justify what is in actuality a campaign of oppression and extermination designed to grant a little extra “living room” (in German, Lebensraum) to the largely white ruling classes in the United States at this late hour of their existence. Some of the commentary is likely to come from people who willfully ignore the history of their own forbears who endured the cruelty of nations looking for Lebensraum in the last world war.

Lastly, I expect many disenfranchised people in this country to become quite creative in the art of passive rebellion.

I pray that I may be proved wrong about predictions #1 through #3.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why I don't Entirely Believe In The ISIS Crisis


ISIS has been in the news a lot lately. I don't have a lot of time to search out links, but I will give a summary of my impression of the news. According to American media, ISIS has grown from a smattering of formerly American-funded and American-trained Islamic militants into a powerhouse of radical terrorist jihadism threatening to destabilize the entire Middle East. Not only that, but they are behind the barbarous beheadings of a number of foreign journalists who were unwise enough to be caught hanging out in places where they should not have been. And to top it all off, several ISIS plots have been uncovered recently to attack public targets in the United States, Australia and France.

In response to all of these things, President Barack Obama has declared a war to the finish against ISIS. (Never mind that we attacked ISIS first, thus prompting the first beheading of a foreign journalist.) So far, this has involved American and British airstrikes against targets in Syria and Iraq. Some members of the U.S. government have also talked of the need to initiate a ground campaign in the Mideast in order to eradicate ISIS.

That's my impression of the official story line, anyway. Now, I am not a national security analyst, but a few things smell quite fishy about the official story line. They have to do with how the U.S. and Britain are using the ISIS crisis (hey, that rhymes!) to accomplish a few policy objectives which they have long wanted to achieve, but which have to date been stymied. First is the overthrow of the Syrian government and its replacement by a puppet government constructed by the United States, which tried for many months to find a pretext for military operations against President Hassad, and which failed to motivate enough Americans to back such a stinky business. First, we tried to foment a fake revolution. Then we carried out a number of false flag operations. Then certain highly placed government officials told outright lies to a bunch of “news” outlets unworthy of the title of journalists. Now ISIS provides a convenient excuse to do something which was never legitimate in the first place.

So what about those beheadings? Well, all I know for sure is that they were carried out by a bunch of guys in Arab costumes with masks on their faces and speaking in funny accents. No sane or reasonable person would venture to try to identify any of those masked men by name – or by nationality. In the absence of more substantive identification, I feel the same way I felt after watching a grainy, low-resolution video broadcast by some mainstream media outlets purporting to prove that someone who looked like Michael Brown held up a convenience store before he was shot to death by a white cop while unarmed. Pardon me, but I need to see faces that I can recognize before I will even begin to consider any video “evidence.” Who knows, the beheaders might be my next door neighbors in Halloween costumes.

Compare the Anglo-American portrayal of ISIS to the portrayal of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and you'll notice a striking number of similarities. Bin Laden served for years as America's bogeyman in order to legitimize two stupid wars, huge losses of life, oppression of two nations (three if you count the progress that has been made in turning the U.S. into a police state), and untold damage. Osama was America's Goldstein from 2001 until his untimely death at the tusks of a bunch of trained seals in 2011. I guess it was time for a new bogeyman, a new La_Llorona to keep us properly scared, compliant and willing to support our raging, uncontrollable addiction to war. Thanks, ISIS!

Oh, and one other thing. ISIS is being used to help us conveniently forget our own self-inflicted problems, such as the oppression of people of color by holders of white privilege in this country, the continued oppression of women by dominating, narcissistic men who legitimize domestic violence and rape, the oppression of sick people by a predatory system of “insurance”, “medicine” and Big Pharma, the environmental consequences we are now suffering due to the non-negotiable American way of life, the predation of the poor by the rich, etc, etc.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Strung Out On Anodyne


The United States is a selectively forgetful nation, thanks to the mainstream media in this country. We are trained to remember everything that reinforces apple-pie patriotism, while any news that challenges the notion that America is the greatest nation on earth is quickly buried.

So it is that many American media outlets have begun to forget Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death by a white cop in the town of Ferguson, Missouri. (Just as we've been made to forget our ongoing problems with mass shootings in this country, and the implications for American society.) I have to confess that I am a bit amazed by the speed with which Mr. Brown's story was replaced with stories about germs on keyboards, a rehash of the last moments of the RMS Titanic, the saga of Michael Sam, and a list of freaky things that happen to ordinary people, such as “8 year old girl saved by adoring pit bull.”

Fortunately, Mr. Brown's story isn't entirely buried. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has issued a condemnation of the shooting of Michael Brown and a call to the United States to eliminate ongoing racism and discrimination in this country. The committee also called attention to the pernicious effect of “stand-your-ground” laws in this country, and the continued inequitable enforcement of the law by police departments which remain largely white. But that's not front-page news today at Aol.com, or the New York Times, or USA Today, and certainly not at the Wall Street Journal, which was eaten a few years ago by Rupert Murdoch, a bigoted rich Australian who applied for US citizenship in the 1980's so that he could consolidate his ownership of American media. And Michael Brown certainly didn't make it onto the cover of People Magazine and other magazines like it, which have indeed at times chosen to publish stories about ordinary Americans caught in extraordinary circumstances. I guess he didn't have the potential star power of Elizabeth Smart.

Forgetfulness can be dangerous. As can be the refusal to think through the implications of a thing. When the town of Ferguson erupted in unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown, the doofus mayor of Ferguson declared that “We don't have a race problem here.” That statement is an example of willful blindness. And as Margaret Heffernan stated in her book titled Willful Blindness, problems that are ignored only become worse. The problem in the United States is that for a very long time, the members of one dominant culture have subjugated, oppressed, exploited and in many cases murdered other peoples both in the United States and abroad, simply on the basis that the skin of those other peoples was not white. The privileged people of the U.S. did so in order to secure all the benefits, both material and psychological, of being at the top of a heap. Such behavior has unintended consequences, even though the consequences may seem to be a long time in coming. Eventually the heap comes down, due in part to the consequences of the actions of the people who built the heap in the first place.

Consider the “Stand Your Ground” laws, the latest outgrowth of the rabid devotion to “2nd Amendment Rights” on the part of many Republicans and white supremacists. A Wikipedia article states that, according to many researchers, the effect of those laws was “...a significant increase in homicide and injury of whites, especially white males.” (Emphasis mine.) Consider also something I wrote in an earlier post, namely, what happens when a large, dominant group scapegoats another smaller and weaker group. Eventually, if the scapegoating is cruel enough, the smaller group is eradicated or removes itself from the scene – but the dysfunction which led to its scapegoating continues to exist within the larger group. There must always be a scapegoat in such groups. Therefore, a fight ensues to see who gets to create a new heap, and who will be at the top of it. The losers get to occupy the place of “poor trash.” Some of the newly-minted trash will be quite surprised at the change of identity bestowed on them by their newly-minted masters. With that change of identity will come the deprivation of civil rights and the denial of due process, along with pervasive, yet subtle discrimination based on the place of one's birth, one's income level or the last names of one's parents. All these things have happened before – even in seemingly homogeneous societies.

But all this assumes that the builders of the heap are allowed to continue sitting at its top. Those who comprise the lower levels of the heap might just decide one day to tear the heap down. That sort of thing has also happened before. A nation can't unrestrainedly exploit its natural resource base without reaching a point of diminishing, then negative returns. Neither can it exploit other peoples without the same thing happening.  So if you're not in a forgetful mood, here's something to think about: first, how, in the midst of diminishing resources, to create a society (or a social circle) in which resources are shared equitably and people are valued equally.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Grey Town of St. Louis County


If a person wants to read about racist policemen killing Black men or using excessive force against them, there's no shortage of stories this week. New York City has come again into the spotlight, which isn't surprising, given their long history of questionable policing. But for this post, I want to continue to focus on Ferguson, Missouri, and Saint Louis County, where Ferguson is located.

An early indication of the fairness of the “justice” which Michael Brown's family can expect is the refusal by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor to replace Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County district attorney who will likely be prosecuting the case against the officer who shot Mr. Brown to death while he was unarmed. I see no justice coming for Michael Brown or his family from St. Louis County or the Missouri state government.

But a Business Week story that caught my eye a few days ago provoked a few strands of thought. The story concerns the description of the causes of the extreme fragmentation of St. Louis County. Over time, the county has fragmented into 91 municipalities that “range from small to tiny, along with clots of population in unincorporated areas.” Why this fragmentation? First, because the law allowed residents to fragment themselves. Secondly, because of the hellishly selfish motives of the residents, who “set themselves up as municipalities to capture control of tax revenue from local businesses, to avoid paying taxes to support poorer neighbors, or to exclude blacks.” One of the municipalities has only thirteen members – all of whom are white. And according to the Business Week article, the extreme fragmentation of St. Louis County is a key factor holding back economic development in that county.

This description of St. Louis County reminded me of the description of Hell in The Great Divorce, a short novel written by C.S. Lewis in the early 1940's. In the story, Hell was likened to a shabby gray town (or grey, if you prefer the British spelling) that seemed to go on forever, where the time was always evening, and where it was always raining. Why was the town so big? Because all the residents were so selfish and self-centered that within 24 hours of arriving from Earth, a new arrival would have quarreled with his or her neighbors and decided to move on. Because their selfishness was by now incurable, the residents continued to quarrel, and to move farther and farther apart. When the narrator in the story asked whether one could meet any famous people, he was told that they all lived really far apart. He was also told of an expedition undertaken by a few ordinary people to visit Napoleon Bonaparte – a journey which took 20,000 years. In order to locate his house, the expedition had to use a telescope. It seems those who hold power in St. Louis County have turned it into a little bit of Hell, which is ironic considering how many churches there are in the county. Truly “the salt has lost its flavor!” (Matthew 5:13)

But St. Louis County seems also to be a shining example of Dmitry Orlov's Fifth Stage of Collapse, in which “faith in the goodness of humanity is lost.” People lose their capacity for selflessness and concern for others, and become like the Donner Party, except that they don't wait for each other to die before trying to chew on each other. Anglo-American supremacist culture is an organism born already collapsed, with its emphasis on self-reliance, “freedom” from responsibility to anyone but oneself, and unrestrained competition. Even the privileged members of our society cannot rest easy, as their identity depends a great deal on who and how many people they can identify as being beneath them.

And that leads to the third strand in this web of thought, namely, how typical St. Louis County is of a narcissistically disordered family, whose head cannot stand the presence of people different from himself unless they are under his heel as scapegoats and dumping grounds for unresolved anger and insecurity. The thing that many white supremacists in this country don't realize is that even if they succeed in ridding themselves of the “named” scapegoats, that won't be the end of scapegoating, for some of their own number will be selected as the replacements for the old scapegoats. They don't seem to have the imagination to picture what that will be like.

St. Louis County, Missouri. This is the sort of place where Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot to death by a white policeman.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Digitally Fake A Video (or, They Only See What They Want To See)


My attention was drawn this week to some rather arrogant and ignorant comments made by a blogger/gadfly/wanna-be pontificator who, it seems, would like to dictate to everyone in the world what their assigned places in the world should be. This particular blogger mentioned the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, and stated that a surveillance camera video had surfaced that showed Mr. Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store shortly before he was shot. Thus, in the mind of this particular blogger, the shooting of Mr. Brown was no crime, but rather the judgment of a righteous society against a Black population that insists on remaining stubbornly dysfunctional.

There are only three problems with this argument. First, it is very easy nowadays to alter digital video – assuming that the original video was authentically made by a convenience store video camera. If you want to know just how easy video can be altered, read this 2007 article from Scientific American. Or you can read this, or this.

Or, you can just watch the video yourself. And that leads to the second problem.  The video sample I have selected is representative of the quality one would expect from typical store surveillance cameras; in other words, you don't use cameras like these to take pictures of the rings of Saturn or to shoot blockbuster movies. You tell me: who can positively identify the faces of anyone in the video? (If you want another version of the video, watch this. See how much clearer the image of the Fox News liar is than the images of any of the people in the alleged robbery video? Also note in the beginning of this clip, that Michael Brown wasn't the only person in the world who liked red hats and white T-shirts.)
The third problem, of course, is that the police let slip the fact that officer Darren Wilson did not know about the alleged robbery when he stopped Michael Brown. Thus Mr. Wilson's act looks increasingly like what I have called it: murder.

A person who has learned how to think would ask the following questions about video evidence: first, what are typical surveillance camera capabilities (i.e., image quality, resolution, low-light performance, etc)? Second, how easy is it for an ordinary person to alter a digital video (and the vast majority of videos nowadays are digital), or to create a fake video from scratch? Third, are there unaltered, untampered 9-1-1 calls from Ferguson, Missouri, describing a convenience store robbery on the day that Michael Brown was shot? Fourth, what motivations would the various players in this drama have for lying? Fifth, what sort of track record does the Ferguson police department have in regard to misconduct? Sixth, how often are unarmed Black men shot in this country?

The answers to all these questions might be deeply upsetting to those who enjoy the rapidly fading vestiges of Anglo-American privilege. But the willingness to ask the questions and to face the answers would separate honest people from dishonest gadflies who hold and voice opinions simply because they like them, regardless of the facts. Again, I am thinking of the blogger I mentioned at the first, who said during the most recent race riots in England that the British had a problem with immigration (and who disregarded the way the British violated and victimized nonwhite residents and citizens), and who said that Haitians were starving because Haiti had a population control problem (without considering how multinational corporations had stolen everything they could steal from that country). How easy it is to blame the victims for the injuries you have inflicted.