Archive | April, 2013

Thankfully, More WNYers Listen to Country Music

30 Apr

A few weeks ago, I criticized Buffalo’s worst Brian Griffin impersonator for asserting that the United States government is a greater threat than al Qaeda. This coming from someone who was a big supporter of Bush-era, post-9/11 fearmongering, who was a huge supporter of the Patriot Act, an Iraq War backer, and who enjoyed labeling opponents of Bush-era policies as traitors. The irony is delicious. 

Now, this: 

Anyone who disagrees with Bauerle’s weltanschauung is, nowadays, simply a member of the “lunatic left”. More irony, as he posts a link to an idiotarian birther website to “prove” his point. But what is actually shown at that WND link? Is there some confirmation there that Americans tend to agree with Mr. Bauerle’s conclusion that Islamic jihadist terrorist organization al Qaeda is a more desirable master than the participatory representative democracy of the United States? 

No. 

What’s shown there is something that -for WND.com – is uncharacteristically reasonable and completely believable. 

Now admittedly, the author at WND has reading comprehension skills that are as poor as that of the AM morning zookeeper who is #2 to country music in the nation’s 56th largest market

According to a pair of recent polls, for the first time since the 9/11 terrorist hijackings, Americans are more fearful their government will abuse constitutional liberties than fail to keep citizens safe.

Even in the wake of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing – in which a pair of Islamic radicals are accused of planting explosives that took the lives of three and wounded more than 280 – the polls indicate Americans are hesitant to give up any further freedoms in exchange for increased “security.”

Wait a minute. Being hesitant to give up freedoms doesn’t equate with “fear” of government. 

A Fox News survey polling a random national sample of 619 registered voters the day after the bombing found Americans responded very differently than after 9/11.

For the first time since a similar question was asked in May 2001, more Americans answered “no” to the question, “Would you be willing to give up some of your personal freedom in order to reduce the threat of terrorism?”

Of those surveyed on April 16, 2013, 45 percent answered no to the question, compared to 43 percent answering yes.

In May 2001, before 9/11, the balance was similar, with 40 percent answering no to 33 percent answering yes.

But after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the numbers flipped dramatically, to 71 percent agreeing to sacrifice personal freedom to reduce the threat of terrorism.

To me, it doesn’t mean that Americans fear government. Instead, it means people have lost their fear of terrorism. It means that America is growing up and understanding that one’s constitutional liberties must be preserved, protected, and maintained even in the face of occasional mayhem, death, and cruelty. It means that the terrorists have lost if we no longer fear them to the point where we agree willingly to sacrifice our liberties and our way of life. 

Not everyone lost their minds when Obama was elected and then re-elected. 

It takes an especial kind of intense hatred and ignorance to draw the conclusion that WND and WBEN’s shining star make here, but it’s what you get when you live in a country with the freedom to speak even the most rank stupidity – so stupid that it reveals your prejudices and your inability to engage in logical thought.

By not “fearing government” and instead fearing terrorism after 9/11, we let too many things go. Patriot Act, overdone security porn at airports, billions to equip police with military equipment, and a detention center in Cuba that is nothing more than an air conditioned, extralegal death row. Americans indeed need to take back our liberties – liberties that were deliberately and systematically abused and withdrawn by the prior administration Mr. Bauerle contemporaneously adored. 

We don’t win the war on terror by indefinitely detaining bad guys – we make more bad guys. We don’t win the war on terror by raining ordinance on remote Pakistani or Yemeni villages using drones – we make more bad guys. Ultimately, we need to understand that there will always be bad guys who want to do us harm, and we can do what we can to keep us safe, but not to the point of fundamentally changing what America is. 

That police power vs. safety debate is an important one to have, but when dishonest cretins misapprehend what it’s all about, and use lies to inflame the hatred and fear of people too dumb to click the link and read, then there’s no debate to be had. They just need to be told to go to hell

The Morning Grumpy – 4/30/13

30 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. Let’s get started, right after you take a piece of advice from a mallard.

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1. Local writer Brian Castner wrote a thoughtful article for The Daily Beast about guns in schools and a father’s desire to protect his children.

The attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School restarted a long-delayed national debate about guns, and their proximity to children is on many more minds. The slaughter of young innocents, a war zone transported to small-town America, touched a nerve with an intensity that even other multiple homicides in workplaces and Sikh temples and movie theaters did not. In the last few months, gun control advocates saw an opportunity to finally make some headway, while guns were purchased at a frenetic pace by those who were afraid they may succeed.

Castner speaks with Lt. Col. David Grossman, a retired soldier and academic who sees several solutions to the growing problem of violence in our schools.

“The Department of Education says that in 1998–99, 47 students were killed in school attacks. In 2007 it was 63. Not only is a violent attack the leading cause of death by children in schools, it is more likely than all other factors combined. If there were this many children killed by fires, we’d be moving heaven and earth to stop it. Do you know how many children have been killed in schools by fire in the last 50 years? Zero.”

Fires have been reduced in schools because of a layered defense: sprinkler systems, fire-resistant building materials, evacuation drills, and, ultimately, firefighters on trucks. Do we need armored glass and bullet-proof doors as standard furnishings in school, part of the basic building code? Are fire drills applicable to the new threat? Yes, Grossman said, and more.

Grossman is also an advocate for “sheepdogs” in schools. 

Grossman has a name for the kind of person who sees the gun as protector in the opening thought experiment: sheepdog. He divides the world into three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.

“Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident …  Then there are the wolves … and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial … Then there are sheepdogs, and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

David Frum, a contributing editor for Newsweek and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush took Brian’s article to task in a followup article.

(Castner) introduces to a concept from the concealed-carry world that divides Americans into three classes: “wolves” (criminals and other predators); “sheep” (those who don’t keep guns in the home); and heroic “sheepdogs”: those who, by carrying guns, protect all the rest of us. Well, thanks. But you know, there are a lot of happy little Pomeranians out there who may believe themselves sheepdogs, but who would prove worse than useless in any serious trouble. What procedures should we put in place to train and identify these noble protectors of us weak sheep? Answer: zero. “Sheepdogs by definition choose themselves.”

Ah. But the trouble is that for every valiant grandmother who protects home and hearth with her trusty shotgun, there is at least one trigger-happy George Zimmerman cruising the streets looking for a fight. For every properly trained veteran diligently securing his weapon, there seem to be dozens of people who are leaving loaded firearms out for children to find and fire.

I link to both articles because I found this exchange to be remarkably different from other discussions around guns in America, which seem to be emotional, partisan, and silly. Draped in constitutional fervor from the right and in righteous indignation from the left. We need to debate issues of import in a sensible way if we’re to find actual solutions to problems as large as this one.

However, as acceptance for marriage equality and gay rights grows, gun control is quickly becoming the most powerful wedge issue in American politics. A clever means to divide people into two belligerent camps whilst the plutocracy quietly goes about their business of looting the public trust. As an added bonus, using guns as a wedge issue  allows politicians and power brokers to use all sorts of racial codewords and create subsets of people organized by class and religion. If Lee Atwater were alive today, he’d ditch the southern strategy for the gun issue in  heartbeat. Let’s hope a real national discussion emerges on guns, violence, and media before the divide gets too wide.

2. Speaking of plutocrats looting the public trust, Matt Taibbi is begging you to read this article and get fucking pissed.

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”

That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

I know that financial instruments and interest rates are confusing, but Taibbi breaks this down in such a way that even my readers in Sloan will get it. Seriously, did i mention this is a big deal? Yup, it’s even bigger than HSBC laundering money for terrorists and drug cartels and getting off with a stern scolding. I am still shocked that hardly anyone gives a shit about any of this.

3. I love the retro-future, looking back on how people of the past imagined we would live. As usual, people are incapable of seeing innovation that will come and only use their current context and tools to imagine future technology, like how people in the 1950’s imagined the “newspaper of tomorrow

1934-April-Radio-Craft-crop

Rumors are that the editors of The Buffalo News are currently enamored with this idea. Coupons! From the Radio!

4. If you watched Mad Men on Sunday, one of the story lines was what happened in New York City in the days following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The history of how the Mayor of NYC handled those troubling times is astonishing and this is quite a read.

5. Raiteros and the seedy underbelly of the American economy.

Ty Inc. became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s.

But it has stayed on top partly by using an underworld of labor brokers known as raiteros, who pick up workers from Chicago’s street corners and shuttle them to Ty’s warehouse on behalf of one of the nation’s largest temp agencies.

The system provides just-in-time labor at the lowest possible cost to large companies — but also effectively pushes workers’ pay far below the minimum wage.

Temp agencies use similar van networks in other labor markets. But in Chicago’s Little Village, the largest Mexican community in the Midwest, the raiteros have melded with temp agencies and their corporate clients in a way that might be unparalleled anywhere in America — and could violate Illinois’ wage laws.

The raiteros don’t just transport workers. They also recruit them, decide who works and who doesn’t, and distribute paychecks.

What kind of country do we live in?

6. How’s the “economic recovery” working out for you? If you’re reading this, it probably stinks.

During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data.

SDT-2013-04-wealth-recovery-0-1

From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $0.6 trillion.

Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.

So, we have that going for us, which is nice.

Fact Of The Day: New York state law requires that a seller inform potential buyers if a house is haunted.

Quote Of The Day: “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be-or to be indistinguishable from- self-righteous sixteen-year olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.” – Neal Stephenson

Video Of The Day: “The Machine” – Bert Kresicher with one of the greatest stories ever told.

Song Of The Day: “Heavy Soul” – The Black Keys

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Conspiratorial Bullshit

29 Apr

Every time some idiot conspiratorial Alex Jones follower hack comes to your town, claiming that some horrible terrorist event was really a “false flag” staged by the government to take away your liberty, treat that person exactly as my new favorite person in Cambridge treats this imbecile. Language is NSFW. 

Tip of the Hat to Little Green Footballs

Tea NY: Tantrum Advocacy

29 Apr

Some people have facts and rational factual, legal arguments on their side, while others have volume and little else. 

On Friday afternoon, a western New York tea party group nominally led by Paladino chauffeur Rus Thompson, brought a contingent of about a dozen people to hold a protest outside the local office of State Senator Mark Grisanti. 

Grisanti is already on the tea party enemies list thanks to his vote in favor of marriage equality a few years ago. Now, the target on his back is bigger still thanks to his vote in favor of the NY SAFE act – the recent gun control legislation that has sent a lot of gun enthusiasts and right wingers into a fury. 

Before NY SAFE, New York already had among the most restrictive set of gun laws in the country. For instance, you’re not allowed to own a handgun unless you apply for – and receive – a permit to do so. New York followed the prior federal assault weapons ban, and NY SAFE strengthened it further.  Rifle magazines are never allowed to contain in excess of 7 rounds of ammunition. Semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with certain features (e.g., pistol grip, flash suppressor, bayonet lug, etc.) are banned, but if you owned one prior to the law’s passage, you  get to keep yours. A person’s weapons may be seized if there is probable cause to believe that the person is about to commit a crime or is mentally unstable. In New York State, the government has discretion in issuing pistol permits or conceal carry permits. In New York City, the rules are more restrictive than that. 

What part of “shall not be infringed” do you not understand? 

Well, the right of the people to bear arms is restricted, not infringed. It is up to the courts to determine whether a restriction is a 2nd Amendment infringement. Furthermore, each state’s laws differ on gun ownership and possession. Usually, conservatives cheer that sort of 10th Amendment state’s rights sort of thing, but perhaps that cheering is absent when the states choose policies with which the right does not agree. 

When Rus Thompson and his band of a dozen SAFE Act opponents protested outside Senator Grisanti’s Buffalo office on Friday, the Senator did something that doesn’t happen that often – he went outside to speak with them. It is amazing to see what happens next. As Senator Grisanti begins discussing whether the SAFE Act will be repealed (it won’t), Mr. Thompson begins screaming at him, quite palpably for the benefit of the cameras. One supposes that Mr. Thompson thought he was scoring points here – that the general population would see this a brave exercise of 1st Amendment rights – getting right in the face of an elected official. 

Unfortunately for Mr. Thompson, that’s not at all how it came across. The Senator calmly hands out a statement and engages, occasionally, in debate with Mr. Thompson.  By contrast, Mr. Thompson is having what can best be described as a temper tantrum. He is screaming wildly at the Senator who reacts calmly but, at times, firmly. It is all a show that Mr. Thompson stage-managed for himself to make the news. Here it is, and the video speaks for itself. 

The animus that the tea party has for Grisanti is longstanding and pointless. Grisanti’s district is made up mostly of Democrats, and Grisanti is a moderate Republican. The likelihood of an ultra right-wing candidate winning that district is remote. In the video, Grisanti says he came outside specifically to confront Thompson on something he wrote online about Grisanti getting in another Senator’s “face” over gun control.

 So, Grisanti supposedly “yelled” at Senator Marchione to “back off”. Here’s what she has to say about it, 

So, that’s a lie.  

There’s a poignant irony at the end of the tape, when the assembled sweatshirt wearers are left taunting Grisanti – a two-time winner of a contentious state Senate election – with “loser”. Yet Grisanti is the only one seen in the video who seems dressed for work, and has someplace to go. Check out how a few other people (casino fight guy excluded) seemed interested in genuinely speaking with the Senator about the issue, but Mr. Thompson drowned out their conversation with screamed non-sequiturs. One man, Rick Donovan, claimed to be an Independence Party representative and yelled at Grisanti about petitions and betrayal. Donovan manages a Facebook Page for the “Independence Party of America” that has a whopping 17 likes. He ran last year – unsuccessfully – as Republican and IP candidate for Assembly 141 (Crystal Peoples-Stokes). On his Facebook page, he deftly identifies the largest issue facing the 141st Assembly district – the wholly and exclusively federal matter of immigration. 

Enlightening stuff. 

So, what is going on here? Looks like there’s a political club operating in New York State that is soliciting donations. In a reflection of their utter failure and decline, of the four political committees registered with the state Board of Elections containing the word “tea” in their name, only one is still active – Mr. Thompson’s “TEA NY PAC“. The other three, Elma’s “Tea Party Coalition PAC“, the redundant “Tea Party Conservative PAC“, and the “Tea Party Taxpayers for Liberty” – all formed in reaction to President Obama’s election – have been defunct for at least two years. 

The address for the “Taxed Enough Already NY PAC” is on Grand Island, where Mr. Thompson lives. Perhaps a reflection of what a political powerhouse and game-changer it is, it has $548 on hand, according to its January campaign disclosure report. In 2010, a Steve Garvin from Derby contributed $15,000 to Thompson’s group. $14,980 of that went to pay for radio spots during the 2010 general election.

Garvin gave to Lenny Roberto in his 2010 run against Brian Higgins. His only other contribution on record is $100 to a town-level candidate

In 2011, Thompson’s wife contributed $100 to offset bank fees from Citizen’s Bank and to pay a late filing fee fine to the Board of Elections. There were no other contributions in 2011. $100 was again deposited in 2012 to avoid bank fees. 

In the July 2012 periodical report, almost $1,370 in unitemized contribution were reported, as were $700 in expenses. Since then, Tea NY has been operating off the remaining $800 or so. It spent absolutely zero money on anyone or anything during the 2012 primary and general election campaigns. It spent $166 in late 2012 for an event.

Hardly the way to influence elections or policy. 

So, when Thompson emails his list claiming poverty and that it’s “impossible” to “wage a proper offense without the proper resources,” why didn’t he raise money – or spend any – to “wage an offense” (or defense, for that matter), in the 2012 election? 

Maybe Mr. Thompson can wage his offense simply by screaming intemperately at calm and knowledgeable elected officials. That’s free. 

 

The Aristocrats

26 Apr

Yesterday, many western New Yorkers received the strangest email from Carl Paladino. Here it is in its entirety: 

I hesitated to click the link because, frankly, it looked like spam. But I did, and it was a portion of the iconic clip of the opening scene from the HBO show “The Newsroom“. In the clip, “Will McAvoy” is part of a college panel consisting of him – a conflicted moderate Republican news anchor, a conservative pundit and a liberal pundit. A ditzy-seeming co-ed  asks the panel what makes the US the best country in the world. The pundits respond with one-sentence platitudes. After eviscerating the pundits, McEvoy assails the questioner’s theory.  He then goes on to assail essentially the last 30 years’ worth of American decline. Much of it is critical of the last 30 years’ worth of Limbaughistic “conservatism”, whereby we used to fight “a war on poverty, not a war on the poor”.  Yet Paladino is one of the most reactionary “conservative” tea party types in the nation, and it boggles to imagine he finds that McEvoy clip compelling. 

The re-election of Barack Obama has driven many on the right quite literally insane. 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Also yesterday, the George W. Bush library was dedicated. If the Bush administration had been a joke, the punch line would be “the Aristocrats!” 

The Paladino Mailers

25 Apr

Never let it be said that Carl Paladino can run for elected office and not be reminded of horse porn

 

 

 

Mr. Paladino responds, 

mail2

The Morning Grumpy – 4/25/13

25 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

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1. Yesterday in The Buffalo News, Jane Kwiatkowski offered some guidance on how to “handle” panhandlers as you go about your business in downtown Buffalo.

All it takes is one bad panhandler to ruin your day.

Maybe he got too close when he asked for your spare change, or pestered you after you said no.

On any given day downtown, panhandlers walk the Theater District, Elmwood Avenue, West Chippewa Street or Main Street.

Getting a handle on panhandling is a rite of spring for city merchants, visitors and police, who view it as a quality-of-life issue. Many municipalities including Buffalo have enacted ordinances that prohibit aggressive panhandling, although enforcing the law is discretionary, police said.

The article makes a lot of assumptions and paints with a pretty broad brush in the most generic way possible. In fact, I found it to be pretty offensive. These types of articles paint a picture of urban life in the city that appeals to the sheltered, fearful, and prejudiced.

“There are some gentlemen who are very respectful and honest with you, and yeah I’ll throw them some change in my pocket.

“But most of them I don’t, because I know they’re going right to the store to buy beer. Sometimes I’ll actually take the guy to the store and buy him something to eat instead of giving him money, but some guys just walk up to you and they’re rude, saying they need a beer. I’m recovering myself, I’m not going to feed anybody else’s habit.”

I’m not so naive to think that there aren’t a few people walking the street who are trying to “get one over on me” for the benefit of the few cents I might be able to spare. I also have empathy and think this isn’t a problem to be “handled” as if it were some personal inconvenience to me. Give the person a dollar if you are so inclined or perhaps give a little thought to why people find themselves on the street in the first place. Perhaps contemplate how your consumption patterns, life choices, voting choices, and overall attitude fits into the puzzle of broad-based poverty and homelessness. Most of all, remember that people on the streets are, first and foremost, human beings and deserve to be treated as such. They aren’t “problems” to be “handled”. Here’s an interview with a homeless man in Chicago, whose story is familiar to anyone with any sense of empathy.

2. Here’s an awesome Q&A with Buffalo-area graphic designer Julian Montague that was recently featured on Dwell.com. The best part? The lack of incredulity by the author about why Julian chooses ot live in Buffalo, which is standard fare in stories like this one. “You’re talented and live in Buffalo?! My heavens, Why?!” Probably because it was written by a person with Buffalo roots, but refreshing nonetheless.

3. Remember Jimmy “The Rent Is Too Damn High” McMillan? You know, the be-gloved karate expert who ran for Governor and seemed like a serious candidate when put on the stage next to horse porn enthusiast Carl Paladino? 

Carl+Paladino+Jimmy+McMillan

Well, he’s back and running for Mayor of New York City. And, yes. The rent is evidently still too damn high.

4. Dottie Gallagher-Cohen was hired to replace Andrew Rudnick as the head of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. I was going to write some thoughtful analysis of the hire, but I decided to leave that low-hanging fruit for Geoff Kelly to cover in the print edition. Instead, I photoshopped Dottie’s head on to Andrew’s bow-tied torso.

dottie

Because that’s what I do.

5. Today, in America, nearly 500,000 children as young as six years old harvest 25 percent of our crops.

Child migrant labor has been documented in the 48 contiguous states. Seasonal work originates in the southernmost states in late winter where it is warm and migrates north as the weather changes. Every few weeks as families move, children leave school and friends behind. If you’ve had onions (Texas), cucumbers (Ohio or Michigan), peppers (Tennessee), grapes (California), mushrooms (Pennsylvania), beets (Minnesota), or cherries (Washington), you’ve probably eaten food harvested by children.

This isn’t a slavery issue, or an immigration issue per se. What’s remarkable is that most of the migrant child farmworkers are American citizens trying to help their families. This is a poverty issue and it gets to the heart of what we, as consumers, see as the “right price” to pay for food.

No minimum wage, long hours, and brutal working conditions. But, hey, we need cheap cucumbers, right?

6. Chart of the day which might cause you to think about the money we spend on the “war on drugs“. Perhaps the real enemy in the war isn’t the illegal drugs.

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We’ll see if the substantial shift in national drug policy just announced by the Obama Administration will mean a real change.

“Drug policy should be rooted in neuroscience, not political science,” said Gil Kerikowske, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy.

“Too many people are cycling through the (criminal justice) system,” Kerikowske said. “We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

Treating our national drug problem as a public health crisis that can be solved with prevention, treatment, and science? It’s about time.

Fact Of The Day: Scientists have created a computer program that can detect good “that’s what she said” sentences.

Quote Of The Day: “The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights.” – J. Paul Getty

Video Of The Day: Charlie Brooker, the best critic of American media. Bar none. He also turns his critical eye toward social media dummies.

Song Of The Day: “19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)” – Gorillaz

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Darkness

24 Apr

As it turns out, Boston Marathon bombing suspect #1, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was indeed influenced by an enigmatic, extremist hate group. 

Alex Jones’ “infowars” – the go-to radio show and website for ignorant, disaffected lunatics who see conspiracy everywhere. To call Jones fans the lunatic fringe would be unfair to the comparably responsible and informed members of the lunatic fringe. It would be funny if it wasn’t so frightfully bellicose and didn’t incite violence.

 

Greg Ball, the Putnam County Torturer

23 Apr

It isn’t every day that an elected official openly and proudly advocates violating state, federal, military, and international law. In this case, it started with a Tweet, but the state Senator has since doubled down on the sentiment, appearing on all kinds of TV programs to advocate in favor of blatant criminality.

Specifically, the fifth and eighth Amendments to the Constitution protect against self-incrimination, and prohibit “cruel and unusual punishment”, respectively. Once you torture someone, you can’t prosecute them. (But, in a moral and ethical abomination, the United States believes that it can continue indefinitely to detain them).

What the Tsarnaev brothers did in Boston is a horrific, tragic, and despicable crime. One is dead, the other is going to be prosecuted. Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve respect or sympathy – he deserves to be prosecuted under the law and then punished. Torture would jeopardize that prosecution. Greg Ball went on TV to repeatedly suggest – tortuously referring to himself in the 3d person – that he “as Greg Ball” would happily “use a baseball bat” on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev if it would “save one innocent life”. Greg Ball did not specify in what way Greg Ball would use that baseball bat. Greg Ball.

Does criminality in response to criminality make us a better society? A freer society? Does the banality of Ball’s call for torture, and his own media tour/victory lap reflect poorly on just him, or a larger section of society in general? I mean, a lot of people seem to agree with him

The term “enemy combatant” generally means anyone who is a member of an armed force against which the United States is at war. After 9/11, however, it took on a new meaning, describing individuals fighting on behalf of al Qaeda and/or the Afghan Taliban who had taken up arms against – and been detained by – the United States as part of the “war on terror”. Under this novel definition, the U.S. government has asserted a right indefinitely to detain “enemy combatants” at military holding centers located outside the 50 states.

The government defines an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terror” as,

…an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy combat forces.

The Obama Administration formally ended the government’s use of “enemy combatant” in 2009, although it retained its right to indefinitely detain Taliban or al Qaeda combatants abroad.

It is not an un-American thing to suggest that our values and legal system are worthless if not counted on in the most difficult circumstances. Why defend the law and Constitution in one instance, while cheering its abrogation in the next? Is Amendment 2 worth protecting but Amendments 5 and 8, not so much?

Last week, a pair of Chechen brothers set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and over 100 injured – many seriously. On Thursday, they murdered a police officer, and injured another. One of the brothers was killed during a shootout with police after having wounded himself when attempting to throw at police another pressure cooker bomb like the ones he set on Boylston Street. His little brother kept police at bay and shut Boston down all of Friday, and is now in custody while being treated at Beth Israel Hospital.

On Monday, the Obama Administration announced that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be prosecuted as any other common criminal thug within our federal criminal justice system. There is nothing special about Tsarnaev to justify treating him as an alien enemy combatant. Indeed, Tsarnaev is a United States citizen detained on domestic soil, who committed prosecutable crimes. He’s not some terrorist mastermind – he’s just another murderer.

But our country is sick with disease. Disease like New York State Senator Greg Ball:

It’s one thing to debate the relative merits of treating Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant”, but it’s another to offhandedly recommend using “torture” to “save more lives”. He went on to explain,

“On most days, New York State is terrorist target #1, and playing paddy cake with mass murdering killers is not effective in my opinion. In the war against these sick cowards who seek to harm innocent men, women and children, information can and often does save lives. Terrorists play by a different set of rules by manipulating the greatest strengths of our open society against us. One of the questions to be asked is this: is “torture” ever justified in the war against terror, if it can save lives? I am not shy in joining those who say yes, and I believe we must give those tasked with protecting us every constitutional and effective tool to do so,” said Senator Greg Ball.

I’m not aware of anyone playing “paddy cake” with federal civilian inmates such as 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, the attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, 1993 World Trade bomber Ramzi Yousef, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, or Lockport’s own Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 innocent men, women, and children in 1995. It’s not “paddy cake” to be in a Supermax federal prison facility, either.

Which form of torture does Senator Ball recommend (link NSFW) for Tsarnaev? Burning him with boiling water? Asphyxiation? Cut off his hands? Perhaps just a simple beating? Re-enact the torture of Abner Louima? What evidence is there that torture even works to gather credible, reliable information? What part of “illegal” is confusing for the Senator? Why perpetrate an illegal act and run the risk of harming the prosecution’s case?

By sanctioning the use of behavior – “torture” – which is patently illegal under domestic and international law, what is Mr. Ball (and those who think like him) trying to prove or say? That our rage at a vicious act excuses a vicious response? That our principles, values, morals, and laws can be brushed aside as so much lint when a Chechen kid throws a major city into chaos and kills 4 innocent victims?

Of course Dzhokhar Tsarnaev won’t be treated as an enemy combatant. There’s no evidence he’s an al Qaeda or Taliban operative, he wasn’t captured fighting against American forces on a foreign battlefield, and he is an American citizen. And if we are so quick to advocate for our government to act in contravention to law and morality, what are we left with, really?

Travel

22 Apr

Since last week was such a septimana horribilis, and because I’ve neglected posting photos of the day, I’m resetting everything by simply presenting two slideshow embeds from recent travels. One is simply a set of stuff I snapped out the window of a moving car. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and the iPhone fed my desire to all but memorialize every moment. Between the four of us, I have well over 3,000 images through which to wade and I’ve barely begun. This is simply the first batch I’ve gone through.  The second batch is a set from London taken in mid-February. 

Because I’m a silly person, I don’t take a DSLR with two lenses because it’s “too cumbersome” and instead rely on an iPhone 5, a Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder with still capability and an awesome zoom lens, and a Nikon Coolpix S9300 which also has a phenomenal wide -> zoom capability.