100-Proof Blogging by Randle Aubrey

Thursday, October 19, 2017

DOWN IN IT


There are things in life that no amount of preparation can make you ready to deal with the reality of, like the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job in a rapidly shrinking economy. You can plan, you can reason with yourself, you can stiffen your upper lip all you like, but when the thing hits you, it’s always so much harder than you imagined.

Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with the former in several years now, although the gray in my beard and the bags beneath my eyes remind me every day that death is indeed inevitable. But as of yesterday afternoon, I was laid off from my rather lucrative day job, where I had barely been for long enough to get settled in.

There’s been a massive sea change in my industry that stood to upend my company completely, and in the interest of battening down the hatches, my employer decided to forego the projects I’d been working on in favor of a leaner operation. I can’t say I blame him; I was quite literally the fifth wheel of our five-man operation, and the project I was working on involved building our business in a direction we could no longer go. Therefore, I had to go.

My boss was kind enough to pay me through the end of the month – essentially an entire paycheck – plus I’m pretty sure he gave me a little bonus on top of it. Along with a good reference and the work portfolio I’ve put together, I suppose it’s better than I could have hoped for. I’ve known it was coming for a while now, and had been scrambling to jump ship well in advance. But being a year from forty with no college education and no specialty skill set tends to keep my resume low in the stack, and as they say, the rest is history.

All things considered, things could be a whole lot worse, up to and including my handling of the situation. This is the sixth job I’ve either been fired or laid off from in the last five years. It gets harder and harder to bounce back from that every time. But over the last couple of years, I’ve done more to prepare myself for the sad inevitability of events like this than I have in literal decades. I’ve got nearly two years of therapy under my belt, and I’ve finally started taking the right medications that allow me to get my head on straight and keep it that way.

I’ve also got a great support system in the form of several lovely people that have come into my life over the last year or so, like my girlfriend, who is my much champion as I am hers; my lovely roommates, with whom I’ve started to form quite the happy little dysfunctional family; and of course, my parents, whom I’m finally beginning to realize that I’m never going to stop needing as long as I live. They are my everything, warts and all, and I wouldn’t trade either of them for the world.

Obviously, it’s too soon to tell how all of this will play out. It’s time for me to batten down my hatches as well, and take things one day at a time. The silver lining in all this is that I suddenly have a lot more free time with which to rev up production on the podcast, and hopefully get it out sooner than anticipated. It also means that if you were ever thinking about supporting Pink Elephants, now would be a very, very good time.

Storms like these always come. I’m just glad that this time, I have somewhere to go.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A SECOND CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION

Governor Jerry Brown of California. (PHOTO: ABC News)
With all the extinction-level fuckery taking place on Capitol Hill at the moment, it can be difficult to remember at times that America’s 45th Official Political Goat Rodeo, as captivatingly horrible as it might be, is not the only news worth paying attention to at the moment. Nor are other newsworthy political happenings so uniformly awful as what is transpiring at the federal level.

For example: California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent signing of what’s known as “ban-the-box” legislation, which will prevent employers from requiring applicants to admit to prior criminal convictions on their initial employment application. Given that an estimated one in three adults in the state have some form of arrest or conviction record, and are – as per usual – low-level, disproportionately black and Latino ex-offenders, this is a big step in not only reducing recidivism, but in reversing discrimination more broadly against ex-cons and people of color.
“[This bill] will eliminate barriers to employment, reduce recidivism and give people with conviction histories an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to become productive, contributing members of our society." – Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, lead author of the “ban-the-box” bill
This isn’t the first step that California has taken towards expanding opportunity for the states ex-cons; this current “ban-the-box” bill is building off the success of 2013’s AB 218, which applied the same rules to government employers. Los Angeles also passed its own version of the legislation for private employers, which took effect in January. All three laws state that employers cannot conduct any sort of background checks on prospective employees until after they’ve been extended a job offer, which offers them greater protections under America’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.

According to the EEOC, employers can be found in violation of anti-discrimination laws if it can be determined that “screening people based on criminal records is having disproportionate impact on people of color,” according to Beth Avery of the National Employment Law Project. Additionally, those who feel they’ve faced discrimination as the result of an employment background check can file a complaint with California’s fair employment agency, which they would not be able to do if denied a job based on their initial application.

“There are people who are struggling with old convictions not related to the job, but who are still being denied employment,” according to Avery. “The problem is applicants are being denied at step one of the process. They have no chance to point out, ‘Hey, this is what happened.’ Employers just see that box checked.”

The desire to remake one’s self in light of past hardships and mistakes is as fundamentally human as any other. To deny people their right to do so is to deny them the right of life, liberty, and most especially, the pursuit of happiness. California’s bold step in allowing its ex-cons the “right to be forgotten” by a society that views them as irredeemable upholds their ability to make that pursuit in a way that would make our nation’s founders proud.

Monday, October 16, 2017

GLASS HOUSES

A lot of you may not be old enough to remember when Joe Biden left Anita Hill in the lurch when she reached out to him for guidance during her testimony against SCOTUS nominee Clarence Thomas, but I do.

As much as I appreciate him speaking out against Harvey Weinstein now that the latter’s officially been hung out to dry, there was a time where his silence as a rising star in the Democratic Party could also be construed as complicity.

The only his stone-throwing hasn’t broken the walls of his glass house yet is due only to the fact that they’ve been frosted by a collectively foggy memory.

HANGING GAYS? THAT'S JUST "LOCKER ROOM TALK"

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of this administration…

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer just released a profile on Vice President* Mike “I Call My Wife Mother” Pence, which is about as unsurprisingly disturbing as you might expect. I won’t horrify you with too many details; if you’re in the mood for a proper TL;DR hate read, that link is your for the clicking. But I’d like to direct your attention to a particular paragraph near the end of the piece that is particularly illuminating for a number of disturbing reasons:
“Trump thinks Pence is great,” Bannon told me. But, according to a longtime associate, Trump also likes to “let Pence know who’s boss.” A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
Honestly, you can skip the rest of the profile; this is the important part. Obviously the critical takeaway is an incredibly revealing glimpse into the depths of Pence’s anti-LGBTQ fanaticism by way of Trump’s typically boorish remarks. Regardless of how seriously a comment like Pence wanting to “hang them all” should be taken, there’s no denying that the nation’s top theocrat has had a hair up his ass (among other things, perhaps? #justsaying) for the Rainbow Coalition for a long time now.

"Who has two thumbs and a hard-on for
gays...er, gay-bashing? This guy!"
Among the more notorious efforts of his Indiana gubernatorial run was 2015’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which essentially legalized discrimination against homosexuals by businesses in the state. The backlash against the bill was massive, forcing even his own supporters in the legislature against him and nearly tanking his political career. Mayer writes that according to hate-wing radio host Steve Deace, Pence “had no chance at national office after that, other than getting on the Trump ticket.” Lucky for him, that particular gravy train pulled into the station not long after.

But there’s another aspect of this that I’d like to direct your attention to, which is what the president*’s remarks reveal not about Pence, but about himself and his relationship with the glassy-eyed zealots that have set aside everything holy in their support for him. Not that this is terribly surprising to hear, but the only chance of reaffirming that Trump is not in fact the Second Coming Of Moses is to repeat observations like these as often and as loudly as possible.

For example: Trump riding Pence for having “wasted all this time and energy” on overturning Roe V. Wade makes it crystal clear that Donald Trump could give a shit about challenging abortion rights, which is the one issue above any others that Pence built his career on. Over the years, he’s backed so-called “personhood” legislation banning all abortions, including in the case of rape and or incest; he sponsored an ACA amendment to allow government-funded hospitals to deny abortion coverage’ he even once signed a bill that barred women from abortion fetuses with developmental disabilities. As if that isn’t heinous enough, the bill also required that all aborted fetuses be either buried or cremated, at the mother’s expense. It’s since been ruled constitutional, but…yeesh.

With everyone now taking bets on how long until he’s discovered stumbling through the West Wing talking to potted plants about what a cuck Grover Norquist is, a whole lot of eyes are nervously eyeing Pence’s potential succession with increasing seriousness. As the Martin to Trump’s Lewis, he’s done a great job of making himself appear, well…sane for starters, along with eminently reasonable by contrast. But make no mistake: the nation’s top theocrat has had his eyes on the POTUS prize for a very long time, and while he might feel constrained enough by the office to not behave like an adolescent baboon once installed, he’s also savvy enough and savage enough to work the levers of executive power in ways that Trump could never dream of. And the way will be more than clear enough for him to do so, if out of nothing other than sheer gratitude that ding, dong, that big orange bitch is dead.

MEDIA BROWN-OUT

L to R: Jorge Ramos (Univision), the president*, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL). (PHOTO: Media Matters)
It’s a well-known fact that despite Donald Trump’s numerous declarations that the mainstream press are “the enemy of the American People,” not only would he not be president* were it not for their largely unblemished coverage, he would be nothing without them, period. (Let’s not forget CNN’s long, loving shots of empty podiums at Trump’s rallies while the commentariat blathered endlessly about Hillary’s e-mails, shall we?) He is a media parasite, who has learned to adopt “controversial” stances to generate the heat that drives mainstream media narratives, regardless of the cost or the consequences. In pursuit of this charade, he’s even now gone so far as threaten using the power of the FCC to revoke the licenses of networks who say things about him that he doesn’t like.

Now, this threat may more or less be toothless, but that doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t be concerned. However, what’s more concerning is what the president* and his Congressional goon squad are able to do in order to shut down and/or restrict negative press coverage surrounding his administration, and nowhere is that better evidenced than in today’s domestic Hispanic media.

From the moment Donald Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” (a move that to this day still baffles the mind for its sheer arrogance alone), he’s ground his axe the sharpest against Hispanic journalists, and the Republican party has not hesitated to follow suit. From the leadership on down, the attacks have been sustained, intense, and largely ignored by mainstream media outlets that are otherwise so “unfair” to him.

Trump’s rhetoric has inspired a horde of imitators among the electorate who, not bound by the what remains of media protocol, have unleashed all manner of hateful rhetoric against journalists like Henry Gomez, a senior political writer for Cleveland.com. In September last year, Gomez wrote an article describing the influx of hate mail that had poured in from hundreds, if not thousands of angry bigots for his critical coverage of Trump during the election, a broad swath of what he called “Donald Trump’s greatest hits.” When his article was released, he made the rounds through nearly every mainstream media outlet except for one: Fox News. Whatever the chatter on the crotch couch was that day, I’m not certain. But odds are good that it wasn’t especially simpatico with the plight of brown-skinned journalists and the liberals who love them.

The most notorious of Trump’s battles with Latin journalists would have to be his feud with Univision’s Jorge Ramos, widely thought of as the Walter Cronkite of Hispanic media. Ramos began using his platform to roundly criticize Trump from the moment his campaign began, to the point where Trump had Ramos ejected for a press conference shortly thereafter for refusing to suck up the man’s mouth farts like the rest of the Good Germans in the room. Trump proceeded to categorically deny Ramos any interviews despite being Latin America’s preeminent newsman, and in fact went on to blacklist nearly every Hispanic media outlet for the remainder of campaign, only doing two interviews with Spanish-language networks after the incident. The rest of the conservative movement, eager to prove that they, too wouldn’t take no shit from no Mex-i-cans, proceeded to pile on Ramos left, right, and center, culminating in a failed Media Research Center campaign to force his resignation.

Trump wasn’t alone in his Hispanic media blackout, either. Back in March, a top anchor at Univision named Enrique Acevedo told Tiger Beat On The Potomac (thanks, Charlie!) that “it’s harder to get access to Republicans than it is to get access to Democrats” nowadays, noting that it’s “happened more since the inauguration.”

Sure enough, he’s not wrong. Media Matters did a review of appearances by Republican officials on Univision and Telemundo during Hispanic Heritage Month in both 2014 and 2017 which demonstrated that, while an equal number of Republican officials and elected Democratic officials appeared on their Sunday chat shows in 2014, that number was down by 60% for Republicans. As the official marketing firm for American white supremacy, the Republican party has had zero interest in reaching out to people who don’t look, act, think or fuck like them, period. And wow that they’ve managed to use their propaganda arm to gain control both houses of the presidency and legislature and the judiciary and the electoral college, they have even less incentive to do so.

The saddest part of all this is how easy it would be for mainstream media outlets to offer greater support and solidarity to their colleagues in Hispanic media. Not only would they certainly be grateful for the support, but coordinated coverage between both parties could easily turn Trump into burnt orange tomato paste. Of course, that would require a fundamental shift in the goal mainstream press away from providing for-profit cover fire for crooked conservatives to something along the lines of honest reporting. And frankly, there’s just no money to be made in that.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A ROLLING CATASTROPHE, CON'T.

U.S. Army Special Forces co-ordinating supply deliveries in Utuado, Puerto Rico. (PHOTO: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
You know how I know the president* and his people don’t give a single crap about the disaster in Puerto Rico?

‘Cause Bloomberg Media done got the receipts, that’s how.

Apparently, communications people in the Pentagon accidentally included Bloomberg’s climate reporter Christopher Flavelle on one of their internal distribution lists, where DOD and FEMA officials where discussing their evolving responses to Hurricane Maria’s devastation.

Bloomberg repeatedly notified the Pentagon about the gaffe, who didn’t respond to them for five whole days. Even better? Every single message was marked “unclassified.” If there is a Hell, somewhere in its depths Joseph Pulitzer is gleefully rubbing his fingers together, and having a good chortle at the sheer absurdity of it all.

Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Bloomberg published a series of passages from the e-mails, tied to various events federal officials were trying to spin. Get a load of this pure horse pucky right here:
Sept. 28: Eight days after Maria hit, coverage of the federal government’s response is getting more negative.
The Government Message: Pentagon officials tell staff to emphasize “coverage of life-saving/life-sustaining operations” and for spokespeople to avoid language about awaiting instructions from FEMA, “as that goes against the teamwork top-line message.”

Sept. 29: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticizes Washington’s spin, calling Puerto Rico a “people-are-dying story.”
The Government Message: FEMA talking points ignore Cruz, instructing its officials to say that “the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.”

Sept. 30: Trump attacks the mayor’s “poor leadership ability.” The Pentagon worries that Trump’s “dialogue” with Cruz is becoming the story, with “many criticizing his lack of empathy.”
The Government Message: FEMA stresses its success in reaching “all municipalities in Puerto Rico.”

Oct. 1: Trump calls critics of the response “politically motivated ingrates.”
The Government Message: Defense staff admit that “the perception of USG response continues to be negative.” Spokespeople are told to say, “I am very proud of our DOD forces,” before conceding “there are some challenges to work through.”

Oct. 2: The massacre in Las Vegas dominates the headlines.
The Government Message: The shooting “has drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response,” FEMA says. Still, the roundup seems to have lost some of its previous optimism. It concludes, simply: “Negative tonality.”
This is everything Bloomberg has published so far. With any luck, there will be plenty of juicy bits to come, immediately proceeding the usual protestations and walkbacks that accompany these sort of reveals. Don’t buy any of it.

When coupled with reports coming in from on the ground in Puerto Rico, these revelations pretty much destroy any semblance of compassion or respect that anyone in a position to offer aid to the island might have for its people. Meanwhile, most of the island is still without power, clean drinking water has already become a myth, and residents of the island have taken to drinking from EPA superfund waste sites in their desperation. But at least they have plenty of paper towels. Thank you, Mr. President*.

Grab your popcorn, folks: we’re in for a Category Five media spin cycle any moment now…

THIS SHOULD END WELL

For about $1500, you, too can create, as Greenberg puts it, your very own, “tiny, anarchic rifle factory.”
Conversations around the use of so-called “bump stocks” – a quasi-legal firearm component that allows semi-automatic weapons to be converted to full-auto – have greatly intensified in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, when it was confirmed that shooter Stephen Paddock had converted a number of the guns found in his hotel room to fully automatic weapons.

“Bump stocks,” however comprise only a small fraction of the entire secondary arms market, which is rife with more than enough parts and accessories to build your very own, all-but-completely-untraceable gun from scratch, an it’s about to get easier than ever.

Wired’s Andy Greenberg just released a video outlining just how simple it is to do this, and how incredibly low the overhead is to essentially set up your own underground gunsmithing operation. The results, as you might imagine, are rather unsettling.
Anyone can buy every part of an AR-15 on the Internet. There's one part, though, that you can't buy without a background check, and that is a functioning lower receiver…For years, DIY gun makers have been legally creating their own lower receivers to skirt gun control laws and build untraceable weapons. I wanted to see if new, digital tools would make building one of these ‘ghost guns’ even easier for someone like me…If I can legally make a semi-automatic rifle, and circumvent all gun control, anyone can.
Crafted from a solid chunk of aluminum, partially-unfinished lower receivers can actually be purchased legally, as well. From there, according Greenberg, “all you have to do is remove a few cavities of aluminum…and you’re left with a true, functioning gun.”

Obviously, upon closer scrutiny the finishing process is easier said than done, as Greenberg aptly demonstrates by attempting to mill a lower receiver with a drill press, and then print one with a 3D printer. It’s when he demonstrates the “Ghost Gunner,” however, when you can really start to feel the ice crawling its way up your spine.

Created by Defense Distributed, a “controversial” organization who’s claim to fame is putting blueprints for 3D-printable gun parts on the web (including one for the first fully 3D-printable pistol), the “Ghost Gunner” is a computer-controlled milling machine designed specifically for the purpose of converting partially-unfinished lower receivers for use. For about $1500, you, too can create, as Greenberg put it, your very own, “tiny, anarchic rifle factory” anywhere you damned well please.
As I watched the “Ghost Gunner” precisely carve away aluminum, it became clear that the barrier to legally obtaining a fully metal, untraceable, semi-automatic rifle is lower than ever before.
On their website, Defense Distributed claims that “due to Federal regulatory overreach, Ghost Gunner is now the only affordable CNC solution for privately finishing your 80% lower receivers.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how making it difficult for people to manufacture untraceable firearms is some form of “overreach,” unless you’re some sort of fanatic. Or maybe an assassin. Either way, if you’re at a point where you’ve bought a “Ghost Gunner” or a seriously considering doing so, it might be time to take your guns away in the first place.

FIRE WORKS

The ladies of Camp Malibu, Crew 13-4. (PHOTO: Peter Bohler for The New York Times)
Louisiana’s not the only state that relies extensively on prison labor to save a few bucks; that loophole in the 13th Amendment has always been big enough to shove the entire prison-industrial complex and a fair portion of public-sector employment through. Last month, The New York Times Magazine published a profile on California’s use of prison labor to fight fires throughout the state, and particularly in the greater Los Angeles area, which routinely falls victim to some of the worst firestorms California has to offer.

The article focuses specifically on the role of female inmates on the fire line, whom I will freely admit to anyone asking contain more badassery in their respective pinky fingers than I ever will in my entire living body. And of course, they hardly earn a dime in recompense for their often backbreaking, exceedingly dangerous work.

There are upsides; working the fire teams earns better wages, and the perks of the camp – fresh air, looser restrictions, better food, and the like – their inability to transfer their experience into civilian life all but completely invalidates whatever prestige or amenities they may acquire on the inside.
Inmate labor in California goes back to the mid-19th century and the earliest official state prison, located on the Waban, a 268-ton ship. In 1852, its prisoners slept on deck at night and spent their days building San Quentin, the state’s first permanent prison. By 1923, California’s road crews, made up of inmates who worked on highway construction, were receiving wages, albeit low wages, for their labor. During World War II, California turned its prisons into factories for the military industry and moved inmates into the temporary forestry camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work-relief program created during the Depression. They built roads, harvested crops and repaired infrastructure. In 1946, as part of Gov. Earl Warren’s Prisoner Rehabilitation Act, the state opened Camp Rainbow which — under the joint supervision of the state’s Division of Forestry and the California Department of Corrections (later renamed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) — housed inmates to clear fire lines. This setup was so cost-effective that by 1959 Gov. Edmund G. Brown promised to double the size of the Conservation Camp Program. It now partners with Cal Fire and the Los Angeles County Fire Department. ‘‘Any fire you go on statewide, whether it be small or large, the inmate hand crews make up anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the total fire personnel,’’ says Lt. Keith Radey, the commander who is in charge of a camp where women train.

When they work, California’s inmates typically earn between 8 cents and 95 cents an hour. They make office furniture for state employees, state license plates, prison uniforms, anything that any state institution might use. But wages in the forestry program, while still wildly low by outside standards, are significantly better than the rest. At Malibu 13, one of three conservation camps that house women, the commander, John Scott, showed me a printout: Inmate firefighters can make a maximum of $2.56 a day in camp and $1 an hour when they’re fighting fires.

Those higher wages recognize the real dangers that inmate firefighters face. In May, one man was crushed by a falling tree in Humboldt County; in July, another firefighter died within a week after accidentally cutting his leg and femoral artery on a chain saw. But, after visiting three camps over a year and a half, I could see why inmates would accept the risks. Compared with life among the general prison population, the conservation camps are bastions of civility. They are less violent and offer more space. They smell of eucalyptus, the ocean, fresh blooms. They provide barbecue areas for families who visit; one camp has a small cabin where relatives can stay with an inmate for up to three days. They have woodworking areas, softball fields and libraries full of donated mysteries and romance novels. ‘‘I always up-talk the program,’’ an inmate named Amber Sapp told me. She noted how the quality of time served is so much better than that in most correctional facilities. ‘‘You see it on the women’s faces, on the staff’s faces.’’

Still, when they’re at work, the inmates look like chain gangs without the chains, especially when out working in Malibu, where the average annual household income is $238,000. ‘‘The pay is ridiculous,’’ La’Sonya Edwards, 35, told me during a break from clearing a fire road. ‘‘There are some days we are worn down to the core,’’ she said. ‘‘And this isn’t that different from slave conditions. We need to get paid more for what we do.’’ Edwards makes about $500 a year in camp, plus whatever she earns while on the fire line, which might add up to a few hundred dollars in a month; the pay for a full-time civilian firefighter starts at about $40,000. In 1999, in a study funded by the Open Society Institute, five prominent economists argued for basic worker rights, including minimum wages, for inmates. Those standards have not been widely embraced, however. David Fathi, the director of the A.C.L.U. National Prison Project, who opposes all forms of prison labor, told me, ‘‘I think one important question to ask is, if these people are safe to be out and about and carrying axes and chain saws, maybe they didn’t need to be in prison in the first place.’’

C.D.C.R. says that the firefighter program is intended to serve as rehabilitation for the inmates. Yet they’re being trained to work in a field they will probably have trouble finding a job in when they get out: Los Angeles County Fire won’t hire felons and C.D.C.R. doesn’t offer any formal help to inmates who want firefighting jobs when they’re released.

This institutional disinterest makes more sense when inmate firefighters, who are on-call continuously, are considered as a state resource. The Conservation Camp Program saves California taxpayers approximately $100 million a year, according to C.D.C.R. Several states, including Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and Georgia employ prisoners to fight fires, but none of them rely as heavily on its inmate population as California does. In the fall of 2014, as the state’s courts were taking up the issue of overcrowded prisons, the office of California’s attorney general argued against shrinking the number of inmates. Doing so, it claimed, ‘‘would severely impact fire camp participation, a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.’’ In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown told a local CBS affiliate, ‘‘It’s very important when we can quantify that manpower, utilize it.’’
I can understand the desire to reduce expenditures whenever possible, especially on labor, which will always be the biggest dent in any given budget. But that $100 million a year California is saving by enlisting prison labor to perform one of the most dangerous jobs imaginable – for shit pay with hardly any training no less – could easily be made up and then some by, say, getting rid of Proposition 13, a property tax loophole big enough to shove every country club in the state through along with just about all of Orange County. But that would require the state to view firefighter inmates (along with the rest of the prison labor force) as people, not as a “state resource.” Articles like this can help them do just that, but only if they read them.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ON A LIGHTER NOTE...

...have some adorable cartoon kink, courtesy of a lovely little animation company called Studio Pupil:


"While browsing the bookstore 19-year-old Gwen is unexpectedly drawn to a volume of kinky erotica, earning her disapproving glares from the other customers. Will Gwen follow her deepest desires or will she let her embarrassment restrain her?"
Not a chance. Give 'em hell, Gwen. For all of us.

A ROLLING CATASTROPHE, CON'T.

A man carries a container filled with water on the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in
Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. (PHOTO: Reuters, via bdnews24.com)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to coordinate closely with federal, commonwealth, territory, and local partners as the Agency responds to the impact of Hurricane Maria. EPA is focused on environmental impacts and potential threats to human health as well as the safety of those in the affected areas.  EPA is continuing to coordinate with local governments in Puerto Rico and the USVI to assess the conditions of drinking water, which includes sampling, analysis and lab support, and getting wastewater treatment systems up and running. EPA’s missions also include oil and chemical spill response, oil and chemical facility assessments and debris management.

There are reports of residents obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste “Superfund” sites in Puerto Rico.  EPA advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health.

EPA has collaborated with FEMA and the Department of Defense on a video documenting our drinking water assessment teams’ work. The video shows EPA teams at sites in Caguas and Yabucoa, Puerto Rico that are without power and need generators to get up and running. EPA is working with FEMA and local municipalities to get the drinking water wells functioning.[...]

Raw sewage continues to be released into waterways and is expected to continue until repairs can be made and power is restored. Water contaminated with livestock waste, human sewage, chemicals, and other contaminants can lead to illness when used for drinking, bathing, and other hygiene activities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should not use the water from rivers, streams and coastal water to drink, bathe, wash, or to cook with unless first boiling this water for a minimum of one minute. If boiling the water is not possible, water may be disinfected with bleach.
Meanwhile...
The fact that no one's attempted to assassinate this president* yet should once and for all give the lie to supposed liberal "intolerance."

IF A WHITE TERRORIST FALLS TO THE LAW, DOES THE PRESS MAKE A SOUND?

Michael Christopher Estes, white terrorist. (PHOTO: CBS News)
Can someone please explain to me how this is not an act of terrorism?
RALEIGH, N.C. – A man planted a Mason jar filled with explosive chemicals and nails at a western North Carolina airport last week and vowed to "fight a war on U.S. soil," according to court documents released Tuesday.
The criminal complaint written by an FBI agent said investigators found the improvised explosive device Friday morning at the Asheville airport near a terminal entrance. Asheville police bomb technicians then rendered it safe.

The complaint accuses Michael Christopher Estes of attempted malicious use of explosive materials and unlawful possession of explosives at an airport. […]

Court documents say authorities found the improvised explosive device around 7 a.m. Friday at Asheville Regional Airport. It contained ammonium nitrate and Sterno fuel, along with steel wool that was then wrapped around nails and a .410 gauge Winchester shotgun cartridge, the complaint says…In nearby woods, investigators later found a backpack and tool kit containing similar items to what was used in the explosive device: tape, Sterno fuel and more shotgun shells.
Lemme get this straight: some dude builds an IED, plants it in an airport with the express purpose of detonating it during a high-traffic period in order to “fight a war on U.S. soil” – a political motive if I’ve ever heard one – yet the FBI is only charging him with “attempted malicious use of explosive materials and unlawful possession of explosives at an airport?”

Gimme a freakin’ break.

I really hate playing the “imagine if he were a brown person” game, but it’s incredibly difficult to imagine that if this dude were anything other than white (prison records list him as Native America, but again: gimme a freakin’ break), there’s every likelihood that not only would they have slapped him with terrorism charges so hard that his grandkids would have felt it, but this would have been on the front page of just about every single major news outlet in the country.

Instead: crickets. It’s almost as if the press doesn’t want people to establish a concrete link between right-wing extremism and the violence it inevitably produces among angry, dispossessed whites or something, because to do so would fundamentally expose the Republican Party as the marketing firm for white supremacy that it actually is and drive them out of office and polite society for good…
...nah, that couldn’t possibly be it.

Could it?

HE SEEMS NICE

"If y'all relieve me of all them pothead Negroes I got locked up, who's gonna shine my shoes?"

Following in the footsteps of his proudly bigoted forefathers, Sheriff Steve Prattor of Louisiana’s Caddo Parish held a press conference this week to protest a series of new criminal justice reforms in the state that will begin to scrub prisons of nonviolent offenders. But not for the reasons you might think.

Here’s Prattor, in his own words:
“I don’t want state prisoners. They are a necessary evil to keep the doors open. That we keep a few, or keep some out there, and that’s the ones that you can work, the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs. But guess what? Those are the ones that they’re releasing in addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad. In addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change the oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that where we save money. Well, they’re gonna let them out!”
That’s right: he’s not worried about recidivism, even though like many Southern states, Louisiana has been economically devastated by the ravages of crony capitalism, which will guarantee that many low-level offenders will return to committing low-level offenses; he certainly isn’t concerned with pursuing justice for the multitude of low-level offenders – roughly 40% of the state’s prison population – that stand to earn their freedom in the near future. Nope: Prattor’s chief concern is losing his army of no-cost Stepin Fetchits because the “libruls” are soft of crime, or something.
As one of our nation’s first and largest slave markets, Louisiana has always been one of the worst offenders in the prison-industrial-labor complex, stretching the “slavery exception” in the 13th Amendment to its breaking point as often as possible. Lauded as “rehabilitation” efforts for predominantly black and brown offenders, extensive use of prison labor in the state has been a critical component of driving down wages and crippling unions, as most of the work that prisoners do would traditionally be performed by mostly public-sector union workers.

Back in June, an activist named Samuel Sinyangwe traveled to Baton Rouge to lobby for some of the very same prison reforms that are about to take effect, and documented his experience in a harrowing set of tweets, a few of which you’ll find below.

The most depressing part of all this is the fact that no amount of prison “reform” will prevent this sort of exploitation from continuing, especially as our increasingly privatized, for-profit prison system keeps upping the demand for prisoners. Nothing short of amending the 13th Amendment to remove the “slavery exception” will suffice.

Seeing as how that particular clause undergirds the entire philosophy of conservative thought around labor rights – that paying people a living wage is, ultimately, bullshit – Louisiana’s prison population can expect that to happen sometime shortly after the Earth crashes into the sun as prophesied by David Icke’s imaginary lizard people. In other words: don’t count on it, fellas.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

HISTORY AS PROLOGUE: CONNECTING THE RIGHT-WING DOTS

Milo is only the latest (and most extreme) in a long pedigree of right-wing provocateurs, whose only distinction is a greater willingness to forego niceties than his predecessors. (PHOTO: Huffington Post)
The blessing and the curse of being a podcast aficionado (and aspiring producer) is that there is such a flood of incredible content available out there, far too much to easily consume in any sort of timely fashion. On the one hand, this is a wonderful problem to have; there’s a total buyer’s market in information-driven media at the moment the likes of which the world has never seen and it’s awesome to be a part of it. 

I’m now catching up on back episodes of WNYC’s The United States Of Anxiety, which is presently wrapping up its second season with the network. Overall, it’s a pretty great show, tackling in fairly explicit fashion the various issues driving America’s right-wing culture wars, and in a way that is as nonpartisan as the “liberal” media can be while still remaining honest about the facts at hand.

However, threading this needle means that nearly episode of The United States Of Anxiety has some sort of blind spot, deliberate or otherwise, that prevents the show from following various threads to their logical conclusion. For example:

Season Two, Episode Six is a deep dive into the history, various factions, and tactics of the so-called “alt-right” movement, one of the most disruptive elements in politics today. Overall, their take was exceptional, providing a great deal of background on prominent alt-right provocateurs like Mike Cernovich, the guy responsible for PizzaGate, and Andrew Anglin, the founder of neo-Nazi flagship site the Daily Stormer. They also took an interesting side trip into the real of white supremacist popular fiction, demonstrating how the “show and tell” aspects of conventional storytelling helped white nationalism mainstream its ideas.



Most importantly, they spend a great deal of time discussing the tactics of the alt-right, particularly in how their spokespeople and their armies of trolls should address the media when under fire. It essentially amounts to a “take no prisoners” approach, always on the offensive no matter how ludicrous your arguments may appear. You’re not addressing the person who’s confronting you; you’re addressing your followers on the sidelines to let them know you’re not taking any shit from the liberal media for “daring to speak the truth” against “those who would silence us.”

However, as I mentioned, there is a blind spot in play here. For all of its depth and scope presented in this episode, The United States Of Anxiety fails to connect the alt-right’s tactics and ideologies to their origins in mainstream conservatism, vis a vis Newt Gingrich, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.

Cernovich, Spencer, et al didn't form their ideas in a vacuum. They're my age; they grew up in the same media environment that I did. They watched the GOP hound Bill Clinton during his time in the White House, and heard their parents cheer from the sidelines. They watched people like David Brooks and Bill Kristol hound liberals for standing against the Iraq War, and heard their parents cheer from the sidelines. They watched people like John Boenher, Mitch McConnell and Grover Norquist try to drown our government and its 1st black president in a bathtub, and began to cheer from the sidelines themselves, if they hadn't already.

All the while, hate wing media began to flower in earnest; Limbaugh became a Republican kingmaker, Gingrich’s GOPAC dragged civil discourse into the gutter and drowned it in a tide of epithets and slanders, and Fox News became the first official propaganda arm of American politics. Between them, Republicans were now able to pull in greater numbers of deplorables than ever, while slowly rigging the electoral maps to allow them to top from the bottom like never before.

In light of this, nothing about the alt-right is especially new or revolutionary, save their media savvy in the Internet age; the movement is a direct evolution of the ones that preceded it, coupled with unprecedented access to information and a taboo against preventing that access.

Also, while it’s true that the Digital Age can allow fringe ideas to come into prominence with incredible ease, being that the architecture of the Internet is based on the same libertarian principles that undergird the entire range of conservative opinion, you can only get so far in digital media without a considerable degree of capital. As Buzzfeed's recent expose of Milo Yappitypapaya (thanks Tengrain!) has confirmed, that capital is and has always been funneled from more prominent mainstream conservative movements and individuals into fringe movements in order to keep them alive, and further degrade discourse in their favor.

The problem is, people like the Mercers, the Kochs, and the like…the money they use to subvert the will of their followers is equally capable of subverting any negative publicity that they receive for doing so, in ways that allow their front groups to very easily and quickly defend them.

Those responsible for connecting these dots in the public imagination – the mainstream, "liberal" media – have been all but completely remiss in doing so for decades, their bought-and-paid-for notions of false equivalence providing excellent traction for dragging the Overton Window wherever the donor class prefers.

Only very recently have major news media outlets begun to directly toe these waters once again, acting shocked! and appalled! that good and decent Americans could actually be so…deplorable. Their posturing of novelty and incredulity is designed to offer only the most cursory glances into the issue, draw as many gawkers as possible, then shove a few ads for dick pills and reverse mortgages in their face before moving on to bitching about the “corrupt duopoly” after the break, congratulating each other for such fantastic reportage all along the way.

Until those same outlets actively strive to connect the movements of today with the movement of yesterday, and dutifully expose the lifelines of money and access that keep hate wing politics alive and well, none of this is likely to change. But to do so would require the mainstream press to directly expose their own complicity in the conditions at hand, which is tantamount to political and professional suicide. Cowards and toadies that they are, I’m not counting on such a thing happening in my lifetime, and neither should you.

That’s why peanut galleries like mine are so important. The “liberal” media has failed us; sites like this one are the “liberal” media now. While many of us may be on the outside looking in, we’re not a bunch of morons and liars and sycophants either; just concerned citizens trying to do the work that our more powerful contemporaries refuse to, connecting the dots in the public imagination with the hope that if we can change one or two minds, we can brighten the future of the nation in our own small way.

If you think that’s worth something – and if you’ve gotten this far, you clearly do – smash that donate button below. Lord knows I could use the help.

WHITE JUSTICE IS SERVED


There’s little doubt that anyone will fail to recall the recent altercation between hero nurse of Salt Lake City Alex Wubbels and Detective Jeff “Dick Duster” Payne (that moustache deserves every ounce of ridicule I can muster) over the former’s refusal to draw blood without a warrant – which is her hospital’s standard policy, mind you – from an off-duty Idaho reserve police officer who had been injured in a car crash involving a suspect fleeing from the police.

Detective Payne, no to be outdone by the “wimmins” of the ward while on body camera, decided to whip his dick out along with a pair of handcuffs and arrest Wubbels for…hell, I don’t know what. She didn’t do anything other than challenge his manhood comply with hospital regulations.

A still from the video of Wubbels' arrest. (PHOTO: Conan Daily)
Well, Ms. Wubbels got her day in court, as it were: Detective Payne has officially been shitcanned as of Tuesday for violating department policies, a decision following an internal investigation that probably should have taken all of five minutes but you know how these things can go. SLC police have issued an official apology to her, and changed their policies to better reflect Wubbels’ position.

Additionally, prosecutors have started a criminal investigation into Payne over the arrest, and gave a holler at the FBI to give them a hand in probing for possible civil rights violations. Turns out he’s got a history of shenanigans under his belt (surprise, surprise!), including a second shitcanning from his part-time paramedic gig after being caught on camera saying that he was going to payback Wubbels by bringing all the kooks and transients he picked up to her hospital, as well as being disciplined by the force in 2013 after sexually harassing a female co-worker in what internal affairs investigators called a “persistent and severe” way.

All in all, I’d call this a win, and some much-needed good news on the civil liberties front. Sadly, I still can’t help but wonder all the same whether this much hullabaloo would be made over hero nurse Wubbels were she a black woman. It didn’t happen Oscar Grant, or Eric Garner, or Walter Scott, or Philando Castile, or Alton Sterling, and they all suffered far worse fates at the hands of police. On tape, no less. But a white nurse can get roughed up by some jumped-up security guard, and everyone loses their minds?

It’s just another morning in America.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A ROLLING CATASTROPHE, CON'T.

(PHOTO: Wall Street Journal)
Mainstream coverage of the devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria is already fast fading into the review mirror, giving way to other horrors of the modern American experience: mass shootings, more savage guttings to the administrative state, palace intrigue among members of the president*’s cabinet, etc. But for the 3.4 million residents of the territory, the majority of whom have lost everything, the real horrors are only just beginning.

A group of US military veterans volunteering in Añasco, a city located near the more mountainous, western portion of the island, posted a video blog on Tuesday relating some of the trials they’ve undergone delivering supplies to families in need of relief, putting in even starker relief just how dire the situation is on the ground.

According to former Staff Sergeant Jason Maddy, who filmed the video, they’re only able to distribute “one small meal and six bottles of water” to each group of survivors they encounter. Compounding matters is the fact that, while the hurricane is long gone, heavy rains have persisted; mudslides are a frequent occurrence, making traveling into the mountains incredibly dangerous, if not impossible much of the time.

“When we’re actually able to go out and deliver supplies, when it’s not raining because of mudslides, that’s all those families are getting,” Jason mourns. “They can go two, three days without us getting up there to actually give them food.”

Even then, the notion of “food” as it pertains to what they’re able to offer borders on tragic euphemism. One of Jason’s confederates – Chris Davis – claims that “the meals are really just kind of a snack pack,” which I can only assume means something closer to Lunchables™ rather than anything sustainable.

“We can’t figure out why supplies are not coming in from San Juan,” Chris continues. “I can assure you that we personally assist the mayor as he walks on foot up through the mountains and hand-delivers water and food to everyone that he possibly can get to…we’re doing all that we can, and they’re doing all that they can.”

The worst part of all is the fact that the supplies seem to be available in San Juan, but have not materialized elsewhere. Red tape, according to Chris, is the most likely culprit. “One thing we can’t figure out is where the red tape tape is…we’ve personally seen [the supplies] on the tarmac in San Juan, we need to figure out how to get them here to the west side of the island so these people can not suffer.”

It’s a logistical nightmare, to hear Chris tell it. “Our guys that are at the Mayaguez airport, they have receipts for their manifests of supplies delivered,” he says, speaking of the airport near where they’re engaged in relief efforts. “It says ‘delivered’ on the manifest, but I can assure you we have not seen one bit of it.”

Jason closes the video by imploring the federal government to do something, anything, to hasten relief efforts before it’s too late. “It’s just not trickling to us, and these people desperately need to get food and water, we need to get it up to them…These are your fellow Americans, and they’re suffering, they’re hurting, they’re not getting the support they need just to survive.”

As a follower of this blog, none of these allegations – and let’s face it, without substantiated evidence from others in the area, that is what these are – should be particularly surprising. But in light of the president* trying to claim that he’s “winning” at providing Puertoriqueños the support they need, videos like this are the only leverage we have to keep pressure on mainstream media outlets and the federal government, in order to ensure that they are held accountable for the actions they take, either for good or for ill.

THE ULTIMATE ANTI-HARASSMENT LIFE HACK HAS ARRIVED: THE ROCK TEST!

"Did somebody say my name?" (PHOTO: Rolling Stone)
You can’t always count on the laboratories of the Internet to concoct anything particularly insightful, or that doesn’t break Rule 34 within a couple of mouse clicks. But over in the virtual blogger’s wasteland better known to the public as Medium.com, a young woman by the name of Anne Victoria Clark has developed an amazing formula for men to render their armies “nice guy” straw men into flesh.

Behold: The Rock Test!
From Harvey Weinstein to like all of Uber, it seems each day a wealthy and powerful man is being brought down by accusations of sexual harassment or assault. And just today the New York Times reported that men are becoming less likely to mentor females out of fear. […]

While navigating professional relationships can often require that dreaded thing known as “any amount of work at all”, there is hope. You see, by following this one simple rule, you too can interact with women as people.

It’s as clear cut as this: Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

I know, this sounds weird, but trust me, this is a visualization exercise that will work wonders in your dealings with the women in your workplace. When a woman approaches you, just replace her in your mind with The Rock. Then, behave accordingly.
You’re thinking to yourself, “It couldn’t possibly be that simple...could it?” But I can assure you, it really is. From jamming ideas over coffee to mentoring new employees to celebrating office victories, Ms. Clark understands just how hard it is for men to control their rabid, horny baboon impulses around the fairer sex, especially when they ask for help or advice or just be ladies in the workplace throw themselves at you in what such constant, obvious fashion. She’s designed The Rock Test to be fast, simple, and effective, in order to avoid confusion, embarrassment, and/or potential litigation. All you have to do is, as she put it: “offer them the same respect, admiration, and healthy dose of fear you’d offer anyone who could completely destroy you should you deserve it.” That’s not so hard, is it?

You’d think so, given the circumstances. That would certainly explain the recent rash of explosive, high-profile revelations of workplace harassment and beyond in recent years, from Bill Cosby to multiple project managers at Uber to, like, half of the higher-ups at Fox News Channel any beyond. Perhaps what’s required to put predators like these in their proper place at the office is not with The Rock Test, but rather with The Rock himself..?

Sure, there’s only on of him, and a gazillion of them. But I don’t think he’d have to suplex more than a handful of them over a stack of cubicle walls to get the message across. Given the rumors surrounding his possible 2020 presidential bid, I can’t think of a “Hearts And Minds” whistlestop tour I’d like to see more.

Monday, October 9, 2017

THOUGHTS & PRAYERS: THE GAME MAKES SANCTIMONY OVER GUN CONTROL EASIER THAN EVER

Are you ready to do absolutely NOTHING about gun control in the coolest way possible, with snazzy retro graphics and a pulse-pounding rock n’ roll soundtrack?

Then get ready for Thoughts & Prayers: The Game!!!!
With just a couple of clicks, you too, can rapid-fire empty, meaningless gestures of solidarity to the victims of gun violence nationwide faster and easier than ever before! Be the envy of ammosexuals and gundamentalists everywhere by spreading sanctimony farther and faster than Wayne LaPierre could in his most apocalyptic wet dreams, with the added benefit of Total! Fucking! Anyonymity! No one even has to know how much you don’t care about doing the right thing anymore! It’s so cool!



Think and pray hard enough like your fellow good Germans and you might even force a conversation about assault weapons bans! Uh-oh! You know what that calls for, don’t you?

More thoughts! More prayers! Awwwww yeah!!!!!



The best part of all is that the game is totally free to play online, meaning you can sit idly by and do nothing for as long as you damned well please! At least, you can until the next mass shooter mows down your office, or your schoolyard, or your movie theater, or your concert venue. But don’t worry, when that happens (did you say “if?” Shhhyeahhh, riiiiight...) there will be plenty of people ready, willing, and able to offer you their thoughts and prayers with Total! Fucking! Anyonymity! as hard and fast as you pushed them on everyone else! It’s a perfect system!

Thoughts & Prayers: The Game is brought to you by the NRA, the GOP, and every single bloody person in America who wants you to believe that guns deserve more protection under the law than the body politic.