Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Memorializing police should not be an excuse to ignore their victims

I am sitting in a coffee shop, watching from the window someone being pulled over by a Kent police officer; I can’t tell if he’s Mexican or Southeast Asian. He probably made the mistake of not enabling his turn signals quick enough when he made the turn; he probably didn’t even know he did anything wrong. Another cop showed up the scene to “secure” the area. I won’t tell you what I thought about this, except to say that I don’t drive anymore because I am tired of being pulled over for no apparent reason, save that the cop was out fishing for the “usual suspects” who might have outstanding warrants or be on a terrorist watch list. The police need to be more creative to stop someone for merely walking on the sidewalk—or more brazen. I’ve had to file complaints against the Kent police department after being harassed because a cop thought it was “suspicious” that I was walking into a storage unit and instead of driving into it, and in another case because the cop “thought” that the wet weather gear I wear to work was a stolen fire fighter’s outfit.

It’s odd, but while I’ve been treated like a criminal by Kent police, in fact I have been the victim of a crime in Kent three times. Police often “hang-out” at the Kent public library to watch “suspicious” people like me; but on one occasion where there wasn’t a police officer around, a man tried to rob me of my laptop computer. I was upset that he had interrupted a download I was engaged in, and I chased him outside where he slipped on an icy patch in the parking lot and landed on his asshole, and thus I successfully recovered my own property. When the police finally showed up, they asked the librarian if I was the “troublemaker.” On another occasion, I was mugged by some gangbanger wannabe on my way to the bus stop at 3 AM to catch a ride to the airport. He socked me and yanked the cord off my neck, and ran into a waiting car. The airport ID access office refused to believe my story; they wanted me to admit that I had “lost” my ID, which meant that I would have to pay a $250 fee for a new badge. I lost two weeks of pay while I stood firm in refusing to be called a liar. The third episode was when my wallet was stolen in the coffee shop; apparently it slipped out of my pocket onto a chair before I went into the restroom. I can’t blame police indifference for that—but I can for an incident that occurred not long afterward: a television and the proprietor’s laptop was stolen from the shop after hours, and the police insisted that they could do nothing to help the proprietor recover his property. The shop is situated on what in Kent passes for a main thoroughfare, and has large plate glass windows covering two sides of the building; they never saw anything?

Alright, so now I’m at the Laundromat conducting the usual business I do there, when the manager turned on the television to keep customers occupied while she vacated the premises. I have to admit that “The Price is Right” with all those goofy people jumping up down like pinballs on speed does nothing for me intellectually; while a contestant was mulling over whether to take the money or what was inside the tiny box, the station cut to a live broadcast of yet another memorial for the four Lakewood police officers who were shot last year while they were plotting strategy for the day in a coffee shop. The intention, it appears, is to conduct this memorial every year so that people will never, ever forget about it. An old woman was taking turns gazing at the television set and me with clear hatred on her mind: the police, naturally, are the barrier between her and those frightening “colored” people.

Now, I really don’t have anything against police if they just leave me alone. I’m not trying to draw attention to myself or cause trouble. I just mind my own business, and I expect other people—especially the police—to do the same. It they are not going to help me, then don’t hurt me; I have no gun. I was as shocked and appalled as anyone by that brazen, startling piece of bloody business; it’s bad enough that police are as paranoid as they are, especially when they carry heavy duty machinery that they only need the tiniest of excuses to use. But to use this as an excuse to make them even more immune from public scrutiny because of all the “bad guys” does not serve the public interest. There is a website that claims to have the “word on the street” that the four officers who were killed were part of a “special unit” engaged in shaking down the local black community, but such talk only can only be construed as sheer lunacy in this environment, because nobody has the stomach to hear it. But all media commentary ignores the fact that Lakewood police and the minority community have not had the best of relationships. Lakewood is one of those once predominantly white communities that has not taken well to changing demographics, and its police force in particular. Back in 2005, the coordinator for the “weed and seed” program—which was ostensibly designed to try to improve police and minority community relations—admitted that many minorities still complained that Lakewood police were “fueling enmity and mistrust” by their activities, including shootings that were found “justified.” There is no reason to believe, particularly after the event a year ago, that relations have improved.

During the ceremony, there was a lot of talk about cowards and the “who’s there for us” bunker mentality. Well, the police do have their unions which insure that cops (almost) never have to answer for what would pass for criminal behavior if civilians were the perpetrators. The Seattle Times has hardly been an “enemy” to the police, as it has been busy plotting the graph about how Lakewood shooter Maurice Clemmons managed to evade permanent incarceration; questions as to why there would be any particular reason why Lakewood would be the scene of the murders goes unremarked. People tend to forget that in almost every case, it is the police who are the ones who carry around the heavy armory, not people like Native American woodcarver John T. Williams. He was minding his own business, engaged in his craft, and posed no threat to anyone. The only person who posed a threat to civility and safety was SPD officer Ian Birk. As they say, bullies are cowards, especially when they are paranoid. But such cases are always left on the backburner; police representatives are adept at blackmailing local officials and the public—support us even when we make “mistakes,” or else we won’t protect you from the “elements,” which is generally a covert message aimed at whites. The police know that creating an “us” against “them” has a double meaning: “Us” is the police and their white constituency. We don’t need to ask who “them” is.

Whenever a police officer is killed, the local media treats it as if if the president of the United States was assassinated; the Lakewood police will have their annual memorial, and maybe the governor will be obliged to attend every one. Last week, I noted that someone had set-up a very modest memorial for the victims of police abuse of lethal force, which someone apparently deemed too inflammatory and offensive to tolerate.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

For the Badgers, respect doesn't come easy

The latest BCS standings are out, and it appears that the Wisconsin Badgers, who are ranked fourth in the AP, Coaches and Harris polls, have locked-up a Rose Bowl bid by edging out Ohio State with its fifth-place finish in the BCS. Although there is still one final poll next week, it is highly unlikely that it will change the Badgers edge over OSU, which actually increased slightly over last week. The odd-team out in the three-way tie for the Big Ten title, Michigan State, would appear at first to have a legitimate complaint in that they beat Wisconsin at home in the Big Ten opener; but the Badgers are clearly the best team in the Big Ten coming down the stretch. It's no coincidence that Wisconsin's offense has been unstoppable the last three games, averaging 67 points and 570 total yards; the tandem of Montee Ball and James White have combined for 974 yards and 16 touchdowns, and the running game has proved to be more potent than the one that featured John Clay. Scott Tolzien has benefitted from defenders inability to stop them; in these three games, he has completed 44 of 52 passes and seven touchdowns.

Instead of acknowledging the dominance of the Badgers’ offense, many commentators are complaining about “running up” the score on hapless opponents. ESPN’s Mike and Mike even had the temerity to have Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema on their show to “explain” why his team kept playing in the destruction of Indiana; it seemed incomprehensible to them that second, third and fourth-stringers might be eager to get some playing action rather than just laying down. It seems that because Wisconsin doesn’t have “Ohio” or “Michigan” somewhere in their name, they are automatically regarded as inferior, and commentators have this need to find some way to detract from their accomplishments. Back in the 1994 Rose Bowl, which marked Wisconsin first appearance in that game since 1963—and first victory—it was predicted that UCLA’s thoroughbreds would leave the Badgers’ “corn-fed boys” standing around like statues. In the 1999 Rose Bowl, Craig James called Wisconsin “the worst team ever” to play in the Rose Bowl—that is before they beat another UCLA team that only a month earlier appeared to be headed to the national championship game. The following year, Wisconsin became the first Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls. In the 2005 Capital One Bowl, Wisconsin was supposed to have no chance against its SEC opponent; the 24-10 victory over LSU was not indicative of the way the Badgers dominated them. The following year, the Badgers beat another supposedly superior SEC team, Arkansas (while I’m writing this, Peyton Manning just threw his fourth interception against the San Diego Chargers—two of which were returned for touchdowns. The apologists will say that he doesn’t have his all his “weapons”—but apparently this excuse was too good for Brett Favre.).

Anyways, Leslie Frazier debut as coach of the Minnesota Vikings was at least a win. While I’m talking about the Badgers, I suppose I should admit to the fact that I am just a tiny bit saddened that things didn’t turn out so well for Brad Childress, since he served as offensive coordinator under Barry Alvarez, which explains why he was married to the running game. Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell also has ties to Wisconsin; he was the starting quarterback on that 1994 Rose Bowl team; his career highlight was his 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter which provided the winning margin.

I also heard ESPN’s Chris Mortensen express the desire that we will have a “resolution” very soon regarding the Jenn Sterger case. Why? Maybe he is like many in the anti-Favre camp who just want to see him get his “come-uppance” and be forced to sit via a suspension. Frankly, I think Roger Goodell feels he is being forced by the media to do the “right thing” and treat Sterger as if she is a “victim.” The reality is that no one involved in this bizarre mess—Favre, Sterger, her friends or Deadspin—can come away with clean hands. All had their sleazy part, even if the media refuses to be honest about Sterger and her unclean habits. We don’t know what was the nature of the material that Sterger gave to NFL commissioners, but I suspect that it didn’t include all the “naked pics” she stored on her computer that were sent to her from “friends, celebrities and star athletes” that a former friend testified that she could “make millions” from. I suspect the commissioner is both loath to put the hammer down on Favre, yet also afraid to court media disapproval by dismissing Sterger as the seedy, self-obsessed character she is who will without doubt soon be selling her “story” to People Magazine.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Pilgrims--the first American grave robbers

I was watching a rerun of the History Channel’s “Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower” the other day, and it is more or less aboveboard in its depiction of the Pilgrims, at least insofar that it tried not to whitewash certain realities too much. One reality was that many of passengers were not, in fact, the persecuted religious faction of popular lore, but secular types going along for the ride for their own purposes, and who did not cater to the strict religious fervor of their Puritan shipmates. There was a near mutiny aboard ship until the leaders of the two parties compromised on how to govern the colony once it made landfall.

I was listening to radio program some months back when the host praised the Pilgrims for being morally and ethically the “ideal” of what Americans ought to be. A caller who wanted to correct that perception noted that the Pilgrims were not entirely the epitome of righteousness; in the early years they obtained ample assistance from the Native Americans in the region—and when that wasn’t enough, they stole grain that was stored in Indian grave sites to assist the deceased in the next world. The host refused to believe any of this, and subtly demeaned the caller by asking her if she believed everything she read on the Internet (she wasn’t allowed to respond).

So what does the historical record show? It shows that Plymouth chroniclers freely admit to finding “abandoned” corn fields and “freshly buried” baskets of corn in “abandoned” settlements as well as grave sites, the latter perhaps as food for the next world just as the ancient Egyptians buried food with their dead. It is admitted that even the devout Pilgrims in their extremity proved no more adverse to theft and desecration than the non-religious counterparts. They freely helped themselves to these comestibles without asking the owners, who stored corn not merely for immediate food needs, but for seed the coming year. The Indian grave robbing charge goes somewhat beyond petty theft, which is why such claims are bound to excite adverse reactions from both the accused and accuser. Commentators from the right and defenders of America’s “heritage” prefer to think that people who point out that white America’s cherished myths are precisely that are engaging in “revisionist” history to appease the “multicultural” element. They would point to Edward Winslow’s account of the settlers who landed at Plymouth Rock (there is some dispute about where they actually landed) as “respecting” one Indian grave site out of fear of sacrilege. Unfortunately for this perspective, there is nothing to revise, since we also have Winslow’s fellow Puritan William Bradford’s contemporary account of presumably a subsequent discovery:

“When we had marched five or six myles into the Woods and could find no signes of any people, we returned againe another way, and as we came into the plaine ground, wee found a place like a grave, but it was much bigger and longer than any we had yet seene. It was also covered with boords, so as we mused what it should be, and resolved to digge it up; where we found first a Matt, and under that a fayre Bow, and there another Matt, and under that a boord about three quarters long finely carved and paynted, with three tynes or broches on the top, like a Crowne; also betweene the Matts we found Boules, Trayes, Dishes, and such like Trinkets.”

Yes, they were engaged in grave robbing. We can thus assume that Bradford and his men were of a more sacrilegious bent that what Winslow would suggest. Bradford also mentions encountering an even larger grave site, which they assumed contained even greater “treasure.” He claims they found a corpse with fair hair, and the assumption was that he was a “Christian man.” However, this didn’t stop them from plundering this grave as well.

Another contemporary account notes that the men of Plymouth defaced the monument of the dead at a site called Passonagesset, robbing the hearse cloth (“two great bearskins”) that was put over the grave of the mother of a local chief named Chickataubut. The chronicler notes that this action upset Chickataubut; after he gave an “oration re vision of mother and appeal re desecration.” He gathered together a band of warriors to wreak vengeance; the chronicler describes the subsequent confrontation as such: “To arms! Plymouth boat landing – ‘battle’ forced them to leave. Chickataubut shot in elbow and fled. All followed.”

Would we not expect Bradford and Winslow to prefer to put themselves in the best light by being parsimonious with details concerning their activities and motives in regard to the Native Americans, given their belief in their own “Godliness?” It would stand to reason—except that even the Puritans rationalized their actions as “God’s will.” Historians note that Winslow’s religious superstitions in regard to their first encounter with an Indian grave site are the only example in their accounts that suggest that the Pilgrims had any moral or ethical reservations about their dealings with the native inhabitants. Robbing Indian grave sites has had a rather long and sordid history in the U.S., so why wouldn’t the Pilgrims be the first to involve themselves in it? Defenders of the European invasion like to critique the Native American response as being “unfriendly,” so they had to treat them in a “like manner.” Of course the question then is how would they respond if their lands were invaded by a unknown people from far across the sea, their food stocks stolen, their sacred sites ransacked? Why shouldn’t they have had the right to defend what was theirs?

"The Hammer" gets nailed

Former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has had a number of interesting nicknames in his life: “The Exterminator,” a pun on his previous life as the owner of a pest control company; “Hot Tub Tom,” from his reputation as an alcoholic womanizer while serving in the Texas state legislature, and “The Hammer,” for using strong-arm tactics in keeping Republican congresspersons in lock-step with George Bush’s policies. He can add a new nickname to that trio: “The Nail,” after being hammered down on charges of money laundering and conspiracy by a Texas jury this week. DeLay was convicted of using various nefarious methods to illegally skirt Texas law and move corporate money into the campaigns of state Republican legislators in 2002, in order to insure a Republican majority that would then conduct redistricting that shifted the balance of power in favor of Republicans. An exodus of Democratic legislators to prevent a quorum failed to prevent the design, although a later U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that Texas Republicans violated the Voting Rights Act in at least one case by reshaping a largely Latino district to prevent the re-election of a popular Latino congressman. The convictions on the two charges generally call for a minimum of seven years in prison, although DeLay could only receive probation.

DeLay was one of the most extreme conservatives to serve in Congress in recent memory, and was frequently at odds with Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, because they were not “pure” enough in his eyes. Curiously, while DeLay thought that Gingrich—who was at the time involved with his own “fling” with a staffer—was not “moral” enough to lead the impeachment fight against Bill Clinton, he waved-off his own prior infidelities (while in his “Hot Tub Tom” days) by insisting he was “cleansed” of those sins after his discovery of religion. But DeLay could make even less claim to exercising moral or ethical scruples in the use of power, because he had none. DeLay’s day of judgment was long in coming, but it does no “justice” to a man whose whole career seemed based on defying the law in the pursuit of unvarnished power:

1994: DeLay committed apparent perjury in a civil suit brought against him by Robert Blankenship, a former partner in his pest control company. Blankenship claimed that he was forced out of the company without compensation. DeLay claimed that he “thought” he had resigned from the company “two or three years earlier,” thus was not properly a defendant; he and Blankenship eventually settled. But on his congressional disclosure forms, DeLay indicated that he was still working for the company in 1994.

1998: DeLay was accused of being bribed by a Russian oil company to the tune of $1 million to be given to an advocacy outfit run by a former DeLay staffer, the U.S. Family Network. DeLay denied that his subsequent vote on an IMF bailout plan for Russia was influenced by the payment.

1999: DeLay was “privately” reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for removing an intellectual property rights bill from consideration merely because one of the lobbying firms that favored the bill had recently hired a former Democrat as a lobbyist.

2000: DeLay blocked a labor reform bill for the Northern Marianas Islands (a U.S. commonwealth), an issue that would come up later in an infamous influence-peddling scandal.

2001: DeLay defied George Bush’s attempt to garner Democratic support for his massive tax cut proposal for the wealthy and corporations by inserting a modest increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for those earning between $10,500 and $26,625. “It ain’t going to happen,” DeLay told reporters—once more showing the contempt that Republicans have for working class Americans.

2002: In the midst of the Texas redistricting controversy, DeLay tried to coerce the FAA and FBI into locating and arresting recalcitrant Democratic lawmakers. The House Ethics Committee “admonished” DeLay for “inappropriately” misusing government resources.

2003: During a trip to Israel, DeLay’s anti-Palestinian stand was so strong that one Israeli observer said that his views were so extreme that the right-wing Likud Party was “nothing compared to this guy.” Even Jewish leaders complained that DeLay was single-handedly undercutting efforts at creating a two-state solution.

2004: The Justice Department began an investigation into DeLay’s ties with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Although earlier this year the department ended its investigation without bringing charges against DeLay, the mountain of circumstantial evidence in regard to votes on Indian gambling, the blocking of labor laws in the Northern Marianas Islands and other issues favored by Abramoff clients was damning. Abramoff and his clients, besides showering DeLay with gifts for “unknown” reasons, contributed $1.5 million to the U.S. Family Network, which as we recall also received a large contribution from a Russian oil company in exchange for DeLay’s “favor.” Although DeLay was never charged, two of his former staffers, Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon, did plead guilty to illegal influence peddling. Also that year, DeLay was unanimously “admonished” by the Ethics Committee for offering to endorse the son of a congressman in exchange for votes.

2005: Comments made by DeLay regarding the Terry Schiavo case were interpreting as “rationalizing” the killing of judges, made more reprehensible since they followed soon after two acts of murder against judges. Later in the year he was indicted by a Texas grand jury for illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate money to Republican candidates during the 2002 state legislature elections, with the intent of insuring a Republican majority that would control the redistricting process. DeLay subsequently resigned his House seat.

DeLay’s end may have been as much propelled by the enemies he made in his own party as by Texas Democrats seeking vengeance; after all, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will likely never be called to account for the many crimes they committed while serving the Bush agenda. But he did leave a legacy, more so even than Gingrich, in creating the polarizing atmosphere that has turned the U.S. Congress into a rigid, immovable object impervious to the public good.

Opinions? Bring 'em on like we care

The other day I was standing in line waiting to use an ATM behind a white female while a Kent police officer was fiddling with the machine. This man was built like a pro football offensive lineman, and his utility belt was bursting with the tools of his trade. When he finally concluded his business and was walking away, the white female who was next in line told him “Have a great day, officer.” Like she really meant it. I suspect that she was trying to make the inference that white people are a cop's "friend," and the "others" are not, which may be true but is indicative of the the role race plays in policing. Now, I don’t know if what she meant was “Have a great day harassing 110-lbs Mexicans” or not, but I’m sure many cops don’t consider a day “good” unless they have some hassling to show for it. I told the woman that she must be a Republican. I also mentioned that it might surprise her that other people have other opinions.

For example, last year I observed on a sidewalk near the Laundromat I frequent a cement-filled coffee can, which held upright a small cross and a poster. The poster depicted headshots of two dozen people, accompanied by the words "Murdered by KPD" and "Stolen Lives." All but two or three were minorities. It was still there the following week, but by the third week the can was turned over and the wooden cross smashed. A couple weeks later it was replaced with a new can and cross, this time with an attached poster that contained a couple of xeroxed letters to the editor from people disturbed by recent shootings of unarmed people by police; one of them, I was surprised to see, was written by myself. This was in regard to a shooting of a man who was “driving erratically” on a “downtown” Kent street one evening, which is usually no busier than a small-town back alley at 3 AM. The officer who fired the lethal shots was riding a bicycle, so apparently he thought had “no choice.” I observed that a newspaper report included some of the questions posed to a jury during the subsequent inquest, and that all questions were designed to achieve a result that leads to a predetermined result. Did the officer believe his life was in danger? Well, he said he did, so what is an inquest juror to say he wasn’t? The point was that accountability was nowhere to be found, even in venues where “civilians” make the judgments, because law enforcement controls the result.

The John T. Williams shooting and several other cases of apparent excessive force all occurred after an incident I’ve mentioned a few times, where black-shirted Seattle Anti-Crime Team officers kicked and stomped a prone Latino man who turned out to be innocent of any crime. Rather than learn to control their impulses, Seattle police merely retrench and nurse grievances, ready to erupt at any time. It’s the same story; they have this need to “prove” that their victims really are the “bad” guys. Now some people are demanding that the U.S. Justice Department investigate the SPD for what is perceived as a culture of contempt for the civil rights of civilians. The U.S. attorney for Seattle says she will “investigate” if the evidence warrants it. But in Seattle, white people are never guilty of violating the civil rights of minorities or guilty of hate crimes. Seattle is the kind of place where progressiveness goes no further than personal taste, and no one ever need be inconvenienced by their failings. Being “right” means never saying you’re sorry; being “left” means you don’t think you have to.

Now, in Republican stronghold Bellevue across Lake Washington, they know how to take care of such inconveniences of conscience without taking into account anyone's opinion. Some years ago a Guatemalan immigrant named Nelson Martinez was shot to death by a Bellevue officer named Mike Hetle--who had already been disciplined for harassing an Ethiopian immigrant. After receiving an apparently false 9-1-1 report motivated by a dispute over apartment rent, a police dispatcher gave what turned out to be invented information that Mendez had prior incidents of domestic violence, and it was Hetle, who was known to have psychological issues in regard to racial minorities, who "answered the call."

From information from the subsequent inquest, it appears that Mendez was unaware that the police had been called when he left the apartment after the dispute (his roommate was unhappy that he was moving back to California and leaving her to pay the rent), and after climbing into his car and driving off, Hetle and his cruiser arrived on the scene; whether he knew Mendez was his "man" was a matter of dispute, but in any case Hetle blocked Martinez's car, which he later claimed had rammed him. When Hetle approached his car, Mendez apparently reached in his pants to retrieve his driver's license, which was the occasion for Hetle to empty his service revolver in him. At that time more police arrived on the scene; officers present stated that Hetle was in a highly "agitated" state, and for good reason: he found no weapon in Mendez's car. The scene then became almost comical. With an increase in curious onlookers, it was apparently desirable to put on a show for them; the obviously dead Mendez was pulled out of his car, laid out on his stomach and hand-cuffed.

The farce of an all-white inquest that followed yielded the expected result, despite Hetle’s clearly impulsive actions and the fact that the roommate admitted that she had “embellished” her 9-1-1 call not because she had been physically threatened, but because she was trying to stop the victim from leaving. It was still a bad enough business that the city was obliged to pay Mendez’s mother in Guatemala a modest sum in a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit. But that was after the police chief joked about how he'd like to "talk" to Hetle about the incident, before allowing him to skip town--all the way to Hawaii, where his National Guard unit saw fit to give him not one, but two one-year paid leaves from his police duties. The last we heard of Hetle is that he became a member of Department of Homeland Security, where he could practice his racism in a more "heroic" venue, "protecting" the country against the non-white menace everywhere. From what I can tell working at an airport, ex-police officers like Hetle are a natural fit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I don't feel like a "freak"

A recent cover of TIME makes this bold statement: “Who needs Marriage?” Apparently men do more than women, in keeping with the magazine’s frequent efforts to tilt the gender “wars” in women’s favor. I’m sure many men feel the opposite—that women can get in and out of marriage any time they want, and take with them whatever they want; if a man enters into this engagement, that is probably the best reason why he needs to stay married. Anyways, all this would come as a surprise to Tiger Woods and me. Woods sounds happier and more content since his divorce, and is thankful for loyal buddies who helped him get through his post-marriage travails. Of course, I don’t see how Woods is going to achieve “balance” in his spiritual life hanging out with Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, but if it causes his golf game to improve, I’m not going to argue.

I read this Yahoo question-and-answer post submitted by “a girl” recently: “Are most men over 40 who are single and have never married either gay or weird? I know this sounds like a generalization, but I'm just wondering is it really possible to have never married, be heterosexual and a decent person over 40?” Now, some people are regarded as "freaks" because of their appearance or skin color, but we are really entering into presumptive territory when people think you are some sort of freak if you are a man and feel completely at ease not marrying. Is it "freakish" that you just don’t have the time or inclination to play the games that women require you to play? That you just don’t have resources to satisfy a high-maintenance partner? TIME’s editors are apparently unaware of the sentiments expressed in this Bob Dylan song:

I’m not the one you want, babe
I will only let you down
You say you’re lookin’ for someone
Who will promise never to part
Someone to close his eyes for you
Someone to close his heart
Someone who will die for you an’ more
But it ain’t me, babe
No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe
It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe

I have never married and don’t see it in my future, and it doesn’t disturb me at all. There are just so many things I need to do before I die, and I only have need for people who will help me get through life toward the accomplishment my dream. As a lifelong bachelor, I feel in good company: Michelangelo, Newton, Beethoven, Thoreau, Voltaire. That’s not to say that there were no women in their lives; Beethoven was haunted by his “immortal beloved” who no researcher into his life to this day has discovered the identity of. There was a scene in the film classic “Citizen Kane” where the reporter asks the unmarried Bernstein how it is possible that Kane could have on his dying lips someone he assumes is a person—“Rosebud”—who know one has any idea who it could be; Bernstein tells him about how over 40 years ago he saw a girl in a white dress at a ferry. He only saw her for a second, but since then not a month had passed that he had not thought of that girl. I must confess that I have had a similar experience. For many years I could not, no matter how hard I tried, to remove the face and name of a woman I had at best a casual acquaintance with; even that might be stretching reality. It was as if she was planted permanently in my daily life, even though it was just a mirage, and couldn’t be anything else. Sometimes I found it greatly disturbing, other times I felt merely wistful. Time has faded memory of her face, and the fact that I have found something to do to keep my mind occupied with other things has helped me keep anything any more awkward than I have already revealed from being expressed out loud, if I ever become old enough to become senile and not in control of my memory.

There is a God after all

There must be a God after all, since it required an All-Powerful who proclaimed “enough is enough” to prevent Bristol Palin from winning the “Dancing with the Stars” competition. Talent was clearly secondary as long as Palin continued her incomprehensible climb to the finals. It should come as no surprise that right-wing blogs like Hillbuzz.com were actively engaged in “get-out-the-vote” drives for Bristol (I still can’t take those close-ups of her face without feeling an extreme case of nausea); a post on the website suggested that voters can put Bristol “over the top” in order to send “Leftist heads into a meltdown.”

Palin actually expected to win this thing—apparently having the arrogance and lack of humility of her mother. Although the universal opinion was that Jenifer Grey was the far superior dancer and that Palin and her mother’s supporters were clearly padding the voting rolls, Bristol proclaimed on Monday that "there's lots of haters out there that are waiting for me to fail"—I assume she meant “failing” to get a lot of votes—and that she deserved to win because "We've been working our butts off.” Well, maybe her partner, Mark Ballas, deserved to win if only because of the effort required on his part to disguise her patent inadequacies, especially during the “Chicago” routine. But at least she had a “good time,” she said, which all the “haters” can’t take away from her. Isn’t it amazing how paranoid the Palins are, thinking that everyone hates them? Especially the communists, the Marxists, the socialists, the terrorists and all them other “liberals.” And I thought this was supposed to be about dancing, even dancing that is something only approaching mere competence.

Now Bristol can go back to being a “teen activist,” which I’m sure no one except she and Fox News knows what exactly that means. And let's not forget, Bristol's profound ego accepted, that she is a "celebrity" for one reason, and one reason only: because her mother is a media-created "star."

Today's "smart" people would have been even dumber 20 years ago

The 2010 season of the soap opera known as the Minnesota Vikings continued this week with the firing of Brad Childress after the humiliating loss to Green Bay at home, and yet another piece of unabashed self-deception from the Jenn Sterger camp. One thing that the football commentators do not seem to understand is that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf loves his players a lot more than the coach; that is why he went about the facilities and asked players their opinion of Childress before making his final call. Commentators also fail to understand that Tavaris Jackson was Childress’ man, not Wilf’s. If Childress had his way, he would have continued to try to shoe-horn a quarterback whose skills were at best second-string into his “system”; Wilf, on the other hand, was willing to pay any price at the chance to get Favre. It is also clear that Wilf was behind the acquisition of Randy Moss, which was probably not a good decision but nonetheless indicative of the fact that owner and coach were not on the same page.

In regard to Sterger (won’t she just go away?), there has been some tit-for-tat in regard to who did or didn’t want a payoff for “silence.” Sterger’s manger claimed that Favre’s agent, Buzz Cook, wanted to pay for silence, but Cook denies this. Phil Reese claims he called him before the Deadspin report to “compare notes” concerning allegations that would be “damaging to both.” Cook could fairly ask how such “damaging” information could be made public without the cooperation of Sterger, who after all told Deadspin about the “goods” she had on Favre, and there is no doubt that money was talked about concerning what it would take for Sterger to hand it over; instead the material “surfaced” through a still mysterious “third party.” Cook reported that the Sterger camp contacted him at least a half-dozen times about “what to do” about the allegations; as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk pointed out, this was clearly an attempt to extort money from Favre without appearing to be engaged in extortion. There was wide speculation that such “talks” were occurring, but when the negative publicity about Sterger being a “golddigger” made the rounds, the Sterger camp made a back flip, trying to regain the “moral high ground” by proclaiming that her silence was “not for sale.” I’ve already discussed my opinion on what “ground” Sterger really occupies, so I need not burden the reader with more of that. Needless-to-say, there are no winners in this, particularly Favre—whose must answer beyond the football field. He should be so fortunate as Eliot Spitzer.

I guess it is not too early to eulogize Favre, although I can’t place all of the blame for Sunday’s catastrophe against the Packers on his shoulders, especially with that offensive line milling around as if they are waiting for something to do; even Adrian Peterson has to break several tackles before he even reaches the line of scrimmage. The fact that Favre has been reduced to not trying to throw an interception shows how he doesn’t have time to find open receivers, or the receivers are just not getting open. The defense essentially laid down to sleep after the first quarter, and once again forced no turnovers. Sidney Rice did play, but not so much that I noticed. The Vikings’ playoff hopes are definitely done, but for new coach Leslie Frazier it’s a brand new season, and if he can get the team to play respectably he may have a job next year; he should take Dallas’ sudden resurgence as a cue. Many commentators are calling for Frazier to dump Favre, but he won’t do that because he has more respect for Favre than Childress did, and Wilf might not let him anyways. Favre and Darrell Bevell are going to have more leeway to run the offense than they did with Childress as coach, so things should become interesting.

Alex Marvez on Fox Sports had said it would be “poetic justice” if the Packers sent Favre “packing.” All these guys seem to derive a certain amount of glee sending Favre off to purgatory. But if Packer fans find any “justice” in this, then maybe Green Bay didn’t deserve him to begin with. I have written about how growing up in Wisconsin I was a Packer fan, and continued to be one through 25 years of heck until Favre arrived. It still gnaws at me the way Ted Thompson and company, who wanted their man Aaron Rogers in there from the very beginning, pushed Favre out. After having one of his best seasons in 2007, and one step from the Super Bowl, it’s shocking how arrogant these people were in pressing Favre for an “answer” in March when they knew his MO was to wait and think about things until he was mentally ready to come back. Favre had earned that right; he had stuck with the team when he could easily have gone to “greener” pastures. Thompson and McCarthy, who wanted Favre out of the picture, knew exactly what they were doing. McCarthy wasn’t “proved right” about anything this past Sunday except that Rodgers is younger and less battered at this stage of his career—and that he is a “fair weather” player; in 42 starts he has yet to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback. Although I am by up-bringing a Packer fan, because of the way everything played-out I have a somewhat higher standard in judging Rodgers, which may not be high enough for him to reach.

Despite evidence of a locker room revolt that had its genesis as far back as 2006, commentators like Jay Glazer still want to pin all the blame for the failed season on Favre. Another is Fox commentator, John Czarnecki, Last year, Favre’s performance was explained by the naysayers as being the result of having a great team around him; he was just a “good manager,” even though he threw for three times as many yards as Adrian Peterson rushed for. This year, with only Percy Harvin from last year’s wide receiver corps playing regularly and not always effectively given the absence of Sydney Rice, now they want to blame Favre when he doesn’t have sufficient weapons. Czarnecki suggests that if Aaron Rodgers had played in 2007 instead of Favre, he would not have thrown that interception in overtime in the NFC championship game. The real question, of course, is whether or not the Packers would have even gotten there; given the same and better weapons the next season, the Rodgers-led Packers went from 13-3 to 6-10. Of course, it was also Rodgers’ fumble in overtime last year in the playoffs against Arizona that was picked-up and run in for the winning (losing) score. Czarnecki also claims that when Favre tried to come back in 2008, Rodgers had “control” of the locker room and no one spoke-up for Favre. As usual with the anti-Favre contingent, Czarnecki is talking out of his fundament; as I recall several players, including Donald Driver, made off-the-cuff remarks to reporters suggesting that they did want Favre to return, but did not wish to be too obvious about it so as not to create tension in the locker room or with management. That Mike McCarthy would insist that Favre would have to “fight” for his job after leading the team one-step from the Super Bowl when he was clearly capable of playing at a high level did seem to many as incomprehensible and insulting; the fact that Packer management was trying to enforce his retirement and not grant his release was clearly a cynical public relations ploy, because management did not want to be skewered for dumping into the garbage heap the franchise’s greatest player, especially since he was still capable.

Czarnecki also makes the idiotic statement that Favre has “ruined” his “legacy” in Green Bay. Time heals all wounds, and as long as Favre makes the appropriate gestures when the time comes, that includes something to the effect that it was his fervent wish to play-out his career in Green Bay but felt goaded by the constant harassment of the post-Ron Wolfe Packer management, that could only be interpreted as an effort to anger him into a rushed decision in order to get him out of the way in favor of Rodgers. I, of course, have already come to that conclusion.

The fact is that Favre had to return this year, because after coming so close last year, it was worth seeing if it could be repeated, because there is no doubt now that the Vikings would have regressed anyways with TJ even if he had the benefit of a receiving corps that was fully healthy, because of the tougher schedule. Favre’s brother Scott was quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune "It's probably going to clear his conscience because if he had not played this year I think he would have always questioned, 'Should I have gone back? What would have been?'" Scott said. "I told him before the season, I said, 'Whether you win or lose or whatever, at least you can get it out of your system and you know.' It's much tougher to go through life thinking, 'Boy, what if I played that last year?'" The Packer management clearly had no intention of allowing Favre to discover that after the 2007 season, and this was a second chance that ultimately he and his Vikings teammates could not pass-by; hindsight, of course, is 20-20.

Meanwhile, commentators are calling on Frazier to do the “right” thing by benching Favre and seeing if TJ is their “quarterback of the future.” TJ had three years prior to 2009 to prove he was the “quarterback of the future,” but with his principle backer, Childress, out of the picture, the Vikings really don’t have an incentive to throw him in there if Favre insists he is “fine”; they will be looking for another quarterback next year. It is interesting to note that Favre has had a history of people not believing in him, and includes Mike Holmgren initially.

According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, when Favre was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1991, he “had become a whipping boy for flamboyant coach Jerry Glanville, who never approved of (general manager) Ken Herock's decision to draft him and once said during an exhibition game that it would take a plane crash for him to put Favre into the game. The more Glanville ignored the wild and unbridled Favre, the more Favre rebelled.” Favre's behavior “was immature and unprofessional. He stayed out late, he showed up late and fell asleep in meetings. As he once said, "I'm sure I didn't help my cause by trying to drink up Atlanta."

Favre was a major disappointment to Herock , who said "He had a big ego. His comments to me in the locker room were, 'They need to play me. I'm better than those guys.' We had a Pro Bowl quarterback (Chris Miller) and I could see why he was still sitting, but he felt he was better than them. Why he was doing what he was doing, I have no idea. I think if you ask him he probably couldn't answer it either." Glanville refused to countenance Favre in the role of second-string quarterback, even trading for another quarterback to keep Favre in the third-string slot. Herock was under pressure to get rid of Favre, and there was someone else out there who paying attention to Favre’s troubles in Atlanta and was eager for an opportunity to trade for him: Green Bay’s new general manager, Ron Wolfe. Wolfe had been impressed by the strong-armed Favre watching tapes of his junior year with Mississippi State, and was eager to draft him before Atlanta beat him to the punch. Wolfe contacted Herock about a possible trade for a draft pick, and when the Packers played Atlanta in an early December game, Wolfe was invited to watch Favre a few passes before the game. Wolfe never actually Favre throw, but he knew that the invitation implied that Herock was willing to make a deal.

Why did Wolfe go after a player that no one else wanted? Herock knew the answer, if only in hindsight. Herock grew-up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and he recalled how the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas shortly after drafting him—and would become one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks (coach Walt Kiesling thought he wasn’t “smart enough”). "Maybe I lost sight of the thing. Everyone was telling me how bad (Favre) was. That's all I kept hearing. And there was a possibility we could recover a first for a guy we drafted with a second. There was nothing there that said, 'Ken, you're right and they're wrong.' Everything was working against me."

And so Herock made the “best deal” he could to get out of this “fiasco,” swapping Favre for a first-round pick in 1992. And it almost wasn’t a done deal, because Favre was also diagnosed with avascular necrosis in a pre-trade physical—the same disease that cut-short Bo Jackson’s career. Team doctors opposed the trade, but Wolfe over-ruled them and the trade went through. Wolfe also had to battle the opinion of Holmgren, who admitted (when still with the 49ers) that in a pre-draft workout in 1991 he felt that Favre was not a “good fit” for their team—or now the Packers. The rest, of course, is “history.” Although Favre was not the MVP in the 1997 Super Bowl, he was still impressive, throwing TD passes for 54 and 81 yards, and running for a third. Peyton Manning was far less impressive in Indianapolis’ win over the Chicago Bears, yet for some reason he warranted an “MVP” distinction.

And the “questions” continue. After throwing three interceptions in Sunday’s loss against New England—including a pick in the final moments when his team was already well within game-tying field goal range—a few people were questioning why Peyton Manning was getting a pass, when Favre would have been excoriated. Manning’s pick-six that was the difference in last year’s Super Bowl also seems to have faded from memory, as was his unsportsmanlike conduct after the game. Yet people are still talking about Favre’s INTs in the 2007 and 2009 NFC championship games. When one listener emailed a radio show about why Favre was always slammed about such things when Manning—and for that matter, virtually every other quarterback—is provided “extenuating” circumstances,” the commentators denied that they ever criticized Favre in a similar situation. Yeah, and we listeners are all deaf and dumb.

But then the critics are always “right.” Didn’t last year the naysayers suggest that Mark Sanchez might have a better year than fellow rookie Mathew Stafford, but Stafford would have a better career? The question now is whether Stafford will have a career at all given his propensity for injury. The Seattle Seahawks passed on an opportunity to draft Sanchez, and local sports commentator were congratulating the team for making the “smart” move. Earlier this season, local commentator Dave Mahler and CBS sports radio play-by-play man Kevin Harlan were having a love fest bashing Sanchez. But Sanchez may have the last laugh; the Seahawks did him a favor by not drafting him, because with the Jets he was allowed to develop into a quarterback who might yet not have the gaudy numbers, but is clearly a leader and a winner. With the Seahawks, Sanchez career would have been stunted sitting behind that team’s own sacred cow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The price of discomfort

What price will people pay for safety? Anything, it seems, as long as they are not personally discomfited by it—especially when it involves someone else’s hands or Superman-like X-ray vision. More and more people are objecting to the new airport scanners that allegedly undress a person before a stranger’s eyes, and the pat downs that some find intrusive in the sensitive places. It seems to me that people who find this kind of thing most objectionable are white people (particularly women) with inflated perceptions of themselves, and perhaps we may also include Muslim men who object to their wives being “molested” by a stranger’s hands. But what is this really about? The right raves daily about the need to be protected from “terrorists,” but the question is who are the terrorists? Extreme-right maniac Michael (Weiner) Savage? The British government apparently thought enough of Savage to put him on their “no-fly” list. That’s just not “right.”

Michelle Malkin is one of many who actively promote the idea of racial profiling; Malkin is Filipino herself, and she could possibly pass for one of those Muslim separatist rebels in the Philippines, so I’m sure she wouldn’t object to being patted-down herself. I’ve heard at least one left-wing commentator (the son of one of our former right-wing presidents), find disconcerting and amusing that anyone would think a blond, blue-eyed person could be a terrorist; I responded via e-mail that Timothy McVeigh was also a blue-eyed blond, as are many of the neo-Nazi stripe whose stated purpose is to destroy the federal government and kill as many “colored” people as they can to make America safe for white people. And then there is Joe Stack, who flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. Maybe they are only “terrorists” to non-whites.

It has to be admitted, nonetheless, that Muslims who wish to blame the U.S. for their problems have demonstrated a greater antagonism toward Americans. Aged Imams and Ayatollahs have shown a propensity to send young men without prospects or hope to their “glorious” deaths like so much cattle feed. If these people actually believe that the Koran instructs believers to kill “unbelievers,” then there is something either very seriously wrong with the book or those who interpret it. Of course there have been conflicts and wars between the Christian religions, but these were usually more about political identification than Biblical interpretation; today, Christians in general (and especially right-wing millionaire televangelists and megachurchists) have too much interest in material things to be personally involved in engaging in violent conflict. Another reality is that the vast majority of Muslims just want us to leave them alone instead of sticking our noses where they do not belong. We don’t need to make their problems our problems.

The question remains, however, is just because one group is more or less likely to commit a terrorist act, is that sufficient reason to profile one group and not the other, and focus on discomfiting them? Why should the tender sensitivities and racial attitudes of some white people justify targeting other groups? Why should only non-whites feel the discomfort of white people’s paranoia and fear—especially when non-whites are often the target of, yes, domestic white terrorists.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An unbelievable story badly told doesn't help police credibility

There was some local story about Des Moines (WA) residents being “outraged” by the killing of a dog named “Rosie” by a local police officer. Of course, one would naturally be inclined to ask what does it take for the same neighborhood to be “outraged” by the killing of a human by the same officer. Being unarmed seldom is sufficient for this purpose; merely acting erratically due to mental illness or alcohol is not going to win your dead body any sympathy points from an inquest jury, either. In the end, it is always rationalized away as a fact of life (everybody dies) or the victim must be a bad guy anyways. But on occasion certain elements conspire to undo the rogue officer and force the public to look facts straight in the eye.

Take the case of the shooting death of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams. From the very beginning of its reportage, something seemed quite fishy, but one suspected that if Officer Ian Birk’s story had even a grain of truth to it, he was going to get away with it. It was initially reported that Birk saw Williams perched on a wall with an open knife, and when Birk approached him, Williams jumped off the wall and advanced toward him in menacing manner, knife threatening. Birk had no choice but to pump four bullets in him. If that story was even 25 percent correct, this would have been forgotten the next day. The problem was that this story was so far removed from the truth, given the testimony of numerous witnesses, that Birk had to huddle with police union personnel to concoct a new story. The problem with the new story, of course, was that it was just as incredible as the first, as revealed by a recent story in the Seattle Times.

To wit: Birk fired five gunshots at Williams four seconds after issuing his first command to drop his carving knife. Birk was confronted by a witness asking him why he shot him. “He had a knife, but he wouldn’t drop it.” That’s it? Oh, but Williams also had a small piece of wood; so Birk felt doubly threatened, not being able to put two and two together like any normal person? But wait: Did not Birk initially make no statement to officers who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter that indicated that he had been threatened or assaulted? Did he not tell those officers that “He had it out; he was carving up that board with it open. I approached him… and instructed him to drop it multiple times, and he wouldn’t do it.” Now, witnesses say that four seconds had elapsed between the first command and the gunfire; four seconds generally isn’t enough time for anyone to “respond,” even when sober. This description of the encounter (it is not clear if this was before or after Williams was seen perched on that fictional wall) was immediately seen as bad business by the police union reps, whose interest was less in truth but in whitewashing the facts as best they could, even if it meant resorting to blatant fabrication. This time it was no late night encounter in a lonely alley with no witnesses, where invention is presumed to be fact merely on the word of a police officer.

The new version claimed that it was a 10 second encounter—and became an “extended, threatening confrontation” that forced Birk to shoot as a last resort. Birk claimed that Williams was facing him, holding the knife up in a “very confrontational posture.” Now, you might ask “Don’t police ever stop lying?” but why get in the way of a fascinating yarn even if badly told. Birk then made the observation that Williams—who according to witnesses never faced Birk—had his “jaw set and his expression stern,” and continued to look at him with a “serious expression.” Can you believe this? This is enough to set his guns a’blazing? Only for a police officer. Then—all this in the space of ten seconds (actually four) Williams became more “aggressive” as if he was “preparing to fight.” Birk—get this—claimed that Williams turned to face him “slowly and deliberately,” which led him to believe that “he was either seriously detached or knew I was trying to stop him and attempting to avoid contact with the police.” Forget the ludicrousness and improbability of this tale—Birk made these “determinations” all within the 10 seconds he said he had made his first command (actually four). Williams showed “pre-attack indicators,” and Birk was “struck with an immediate fear for my own life.” So the officer armed with a Glock 40 felt more threatened than the intoxicated man who was just minding his own business with a by now closed and legal three-inch knife, that even the officer knew was being used to cut a small piece of wood and not a person. So he had to fire his gun five times, four of the bullets lodging in Williams side. Birk claimed that the drunken Williams—who was not in fact facing him—could attack him “at any moment.”

Forensic evidence and witnesses at the scene flatly contradicted this version of events, and the disgust one feels for the very blatancy of the lies and deceptions are just the kind of thing that police should be thinking about before they concoct such absurd and unbelievable stories. The front page of the Seattle Times displayed still pictures from the police camera in Birk’s patrol car; Williams is seen passing by clearly immersed in the carving of his piece of wood, completely unaware of or unperturbed by the officer’s presence; he was clearly threatening no one. The police are doing themselves no favors with such inventions when everyone can see the facts point elsewhere. People are not as stupid as they think. Birk’s attorney, Ted Buck, states that we don’t know the “whole story,” but what could the rest of the story be but that police psychological examinations had failed to reveal Birk’s paranoid, bullying streak and complete lack of judgment?

Palin's Alaska has no room for Native Americans

Sarah Palin has a new book out (I wonder who the ghostwriter for this one is) in which she expounds upon life and faith, although in regard to the latter I’m not sure she’s actually referring to religion. This so-called “Christian” has a certain lacking in Christian charity, as do most Republicans; Mother Palin spends considerable time trashing other people who done her wrong, mainly by questioning her many head-scratching commentaries. But don’t you criticize my mother, tweets Willow Palin, or I will tell you “stfu” and call you a “faggot.” At least we know the manner of language that goes on in the Palin household. Bristol says that everybody is “jealous” of the family’s success, although judging from her “Dancing with the Stars” performances, there is no accounting for lousy taste; Bristol’s partner is energetic and clearly knows what he’s doing, but that arrogant, clumsy tubby with no personality (and always seems to look as if she’d rather be somewhere else) has now been voted into the finals. The deadly silence of the audience that greeted this announcement could just as easily be interpreted as silent booing. Afterward, Brandy—a much better dancer who didn’t make the final cut—said it was all OK because Bristol was “shy and sweet”; she clearly has not spent much time inside the Palin Klan.

Meanwhile, Matt Bai of the NY Times had an absurd story about how Palin “allowed herself to be shaped by the “demands of the marketplace”—the “crowd-sourced candidate.” He says that she was “unformed.” The fact is that Palin was fully-formed before, and what you see is what you always had—someone with a thirst for attention and power, and treads on anyone to get it; that Palin’s knowledge on the issues of the day hasn’t improved much since her Katie Couric interview also suggests that she hasn’t “re-formed” to any noticeable extent. It is also true that people who despise other people and are contemptuous of them and their rights also have a tendency to be “culturally conservative,” so we don’t really need to wonder at questions of ideology. The question of why Palin is such a “hit” in the media is easily explained by the fact that many in that estate require a white female to be a symbol of power for their own self-aggrandizement, and with Hillary Clinton strangely in the shadows, the media has latched on to Palin for undeserved credibility on a variety of issues she clearly has no business expressing an opinion on.

Palin also has a new “reality show” called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” Boy, doesn’t that sound exciting. I bet one thing Palin won’t discuss is her “respect” for Alaska’s Native American culture. Although her husband, Todd Palin, is 1/16th Yu'pik and has a Yu'pik grandmother, that’s like saying John Boehner is part Cherokee. According to many of Alaska’s Native Americans, Palin seems to support the concept that nature’s bounty is for the use and enjoyment of humans—that is, if they are white like she is. Palin apparently does not like the fact that whenever she goes out hunting or fishing she might run into Natives who must do the same for subsistence and not sport, or take into consideration their needs (“I’m pro subsistence for all Alaskans” she proclaimed in opposing Native American fishing and hunting rights). According to tribal leaders, Palin seemed to have an agenda from the moment she was elected governor (apparently because she was not the unpopular Frank Murkowski), stifling efforts to protect Native people's livelihoods from commercial and sport fishing and hunting. The lawsuit Palin initiated in opposition to the Interior Department’s decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species would also have had the effect of removing protection--from oil and mining interests-- for lands used by the Natives; she also opposed and helped defeat the Alaska Clean Water initiative, which sought to limit toxic chemicals into Alaska waterways by mining companies, which tribes saw as endangering their livelihoods and health.

Palin was also criticized for failing to appoint any Native Americans to the Alaska Coastal Management Program, which oversees coastal conditions, which naturally is of vital interest to tribes—and who were likely to get in the way of white conservative “needs.” Alaska’s natives have additionally complained of Palin’s disinterest in improving living conditions in remote areas where there is no running water or sewage systems. Palin also tried to interfere with the Bureau of Indian Affairs authority, particularly on issues of tribal sovereignty. Palin further angered Native Alaskans by refusing to provide bi-lingual voting ballots for Yu'pik speakers; she was later forced by court order to provide them. Last but not least, she fired Native American Walt Monegan, the Public Safety Commissioner, for failing to fire the trooper ex-husband of her sister—which later transmuted into Troopergate, for which Palin only escaped censure when she decided to quit being governor.

Not surprisingly, in every negative economic, health, educational, criminal justice and social indicator, Native Alaskans rank far beyond their numbers comparative to whites. Palin’s opposition to stimulus money for education and rejection of “donated” heating fuel from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez naturally most affected native peoples. Gov. Palin’s attention to diversity (or lack thereof) didn’t escape the attention of Alaskans who are African-American, either. Black leaders met with Palin to discuss her problem in regard to minority hiring; Gwen Alexander, the head of the African-American Historical Society of Alaska, later reported that Palin’s position was that she felt no compulsion to hire blacks at all, and had no plans on doing so in the future.

What are we to make of this? As the Empress of Tea Partydom, and given the racist underpinnings of that movement, we should not be surprised by any of these doings. Given the facts—which the “lamestream” and “blamestream” media that Palin derides never seem to discover on their own—what you see is what you get. If we take the recent Gallup poll on the “Palin effect,” perhaps some people are starting to get wise: 52 percent of the public have a negative view of her.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Debt, and more debt

The recent cover of The Economist portrays a gaggle of Republicans on horseback in front of the U.S. Capitol building, in a posse pose copped from the film “The Magnificent Seven”—with Sarah Palin in the Yul Brynner role. A poor analogy; in the movie, the seven (as in the original “Seven Samurai”) were protecting defenseless peasants against marauding bandits. The Republican horsepersons have very different priorities: their defending the marauding bandits (Wall Street, corporations, financial and insurance companies) against the defenseless peasants (the working poor). During the Bush administration, when these mostly the same Republicans road into town, they let the bandits run wild throughout the countryside, doing as much as they could get away with. Naturally, the bandits pleaded poverty when they ran out of plunder and demanded replenishment from the government and hapless taxpayers. When the peasants became upset by these demands, the replenished bandits tried to convince them that the Democrats who road into the village with the idea of saving them from the bandits (or at least keeping the bandits at bay with contributions from the Treasury) were the real villains. The bandits and their Republican allies succeeded in convincing a majority of the peasants through clever propaganda that their marauding ways had been forced upon them by budget deficits; what they didn’t mention was that these deficits might make discontinuing tax cuts for the rich and looking askance at corporate welfare and attempts to dodge tax liabilities, with an eye to reducing the deficit and maintain programs for a civil society, more likely.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s recent trade mission was unsuccessful, in part due to the fact that our trade partners seemed to be less inclined to the U.S. attempt to open up markets for U.S. goods and inflate Chinese currency. Why? Because they see now that the Republicans are dead-set crazy against him, at least in the House, and this has weakened U.S. influence. Is it not remarkable how the Republicans actually weaken the U.S. internationally? They always think that playing bully wins friends, but only in the short term, as tempers simmers and the desire for vengeance increases. The international community instead is demanding that the U.S. clean-up its debt problem, the excuse they always use to when the U.S. demands open markets. The rest of the world knows that the U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer market, and they want to keep it that way. What they don’t seem to understand is that with jobs going overseas and wages decreasing in order to compete with low-wage labor, there are fewer Americans with the cash to buy their products. Nobody wants a trade war, but nobody wants to play fair either.

Domestically and internationally, the U.S. is being hammered for its federal deficit, but it isn’t the only debt issue this country faces. Back in 2006, U.S. private debt was 126 percent of income, and some were predicting that this problem would be the harbinger of another economic depression (something like what we are in now). Today, private debt is around $13.5 trillion, comparable to that of the federal national debt. Non-financial business debt, according to a Fed study out last September, is about $11 trillion. State and local government debt is “only” about $3 trillion. Total debt is a mind-boggling $50 trillion dollars, three times the GDP. The same study noted that the total value of U.S. financial assets is $131 trillion, while liabilities are $106 trillion. These numbers are just too big for my little head to comprehend, but they do indicate that the problem is too big for simplistic statements and token measures.

Things could get a lot worse. The underfunded amount of future pension programs around the country is estimated at $3 trillion. Although some studies suggest that the claim that Social Security is in dire straits is overblown and an attempt to force privatization, runaway health care costs are expected to double by 2018. The people who will be hurt by this more than anyone are not Republicans and their wealthy corporate and big banking backers who pay for the propaganda they feed the masses, but the masses themselves who are paid insufficiently or are jobless—and accumulating ever more debt. Thomas Jefferson foresaw the problem of this sort of debt, warning that:

“If the American people ever allow the banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless. I sincerely believe the banking institutions (having the issuing power of money) are more dangerous to liberty than standing armies. My zeal against these institutions was so warm and open at the establishment of the Bank of the United States, that I was derided as a maniac by the tribe of bank mongers who were seeking to filch from the public.”

Although there technically is no “Bank of the United States,” the Federal Reserve in fact has all the elements that Jefferson warned against—and worse. The Fed is not a government entity, but a private corporation whose basic interest is in maintaining the profit margins of corporations and stockholders; its interest in job creation is only peripheral to its principle mission. Note that the Fed gave trillions of dollars (most of it unaccounted for) to financial and business entities during the current crisis (and even before), while untold numbers of people have lost their homes and jobs because the Fed didn’t require that some of this money be used to relieve public distress or create jobs.

Every nation in the world (except maybe China) has massive debt problems relative to their GDP. Japan, in fact, has a much worse debt problem than the U.S.; by next year, it is estimated that it will have 200 percent as much government debt in relation to its GDP, compared to 100 percent in the U.S.; surprisingly, Latin American as a whole has government debt only one-third of GDP. The Republicans talk a big game about what they are going to do about the deficits; those without short memories might recall that during the Bush administration the national debt ballooned out of control, but that was so yesterday for the short of memory. The cutting of earmarks—something we’ve heard about many, many times before—even if implemented will barely be noticeable, and may cause more harm than good to cash-strapped states. Cutting “welfare” and social programs—unless we’re talking about corporate welfare—won’t be much help; even excluding government pensions, Social Security and Medicare, only 18 percent of so-called “welfare programs,” which includes unemployment insurance, goes to what some people disparagingly refer to the “welfare queens,” as well as food assistance and school lunches. Surely there are ways to trim Medicare and the defense budget to make a noticeable (but not substantial) impact on the budget reduction. No further stimulus packages will make a dent on next year’s deficits, but otherwise even eliminating Education and HUD will have little noticeable impact while only causing more pain on the state and local level. Health care costs—with or without reform—continues to run out-of-control, and the Republicans have offered zero plans on how to deal with it, short of allowing many more millions to go without health insurance.

Anyone who claims that tax increases are not necessary to close the gap is just playing to the crowd. Economist Robert Reich has recently written that the poor need the crumbs that the Bush tax cuts gave them more than the rich need the massive cuts they were given. Allowing the tax cuts for the top 1 percent to sunset would free-up $120 billion over the next two years, which would be enough to cover further unemployment insurance costs for the jobless. Republicans continue to insist that tax cuts for the rich will “trickle down” into job creation. When are people who vote Republican going to wake-up and realize that this is simply not true? With unemployment continuing near 10 percent and those tax cuts for the rich in place these past two years—where are those jobs?

As if that isn’t bad enough, tax-cheating is rampant. Back in 2007, it was reported that the tax gap between what people owed and what they paid that year was $345 billion—and we are not even talking about off-shored assets not subject to taxation. In some states, the tax payment gap exceeds their budget shortfalls. These days, law firms are telling you how to they will help tax cheats pay pennies on the dollar when the IRS comes calling. Some of the largest corporations pay no taxes at all. Why are not Republicans and their lemming constituency not concerned about this? Oh, I forgot: They don’t like paying taxes if they can help it.

I frankly don’t foresee the new Republican “posse” doing anything useful for the long-term. In 2008, they seemed dead in the water after all the crimes against America they committed. They committed further crimes by lying to the American public about their culpability in the current malaise the country is facing by manipulating the darkest aspects of the national character. We may soon see what they really are: intolerant, bigoted bullies beating on the most vulnerable in this society, just to keep their own power.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Favre saga continues...

At least for this week, Brett Favre cannot be blamed for global warming, the economy or armed conflict in the world. Perhaps he can be blamed for not being able to will his team to victory against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. I don’t think the Vikings will have a first down the entire second half. It was all his fault; Brad Childress insists on his “system,” meaning giving the ball to Adrian Peterson even when he isn’t functioning. He had a run of 20 yards, and a couple more for 5 yards. Then it was 13 carries for 11 yards. Why don’t they go into the no-huddle offense that worked against Arizona last week, when you know the “system” isn’t working? Is that what this is? Another pass intended for Peterson intercepted just after Harvin was knocked out of the game following a fumbled kick-off that was reversed on review. Peterson fell down running the route. That play is under review. Play upheld under review. Oh the horror, the horror. I have to go back to work now…I’m back. The Bears didn’t score after the last turnover, the Vikings are on the move, sort of. A shot of all three of last year’s starting receiving corps sitting on the bench, all injured. The big tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe, is now the “deep threat.” Favre throws deep to Shiancoe, and is intercepted for the third time. Damn, but life bleeps. I think Favre should retire now. What’s the point? Even if Sidney Rice does decide he’s not too sore to play, it’s too late in season for him to have much of an impact; Bernard Berrian—who did have his only productive game this year last week, helping Favre to his career best 446 yards—has otherwise been a nonfactor even without that groin injury that he “aggravated” during pre-game warm-ups, and Harvin re-injured his injured ankle. Highly unlikely he will be on the field next week against the Packers. Favre may not have the “magic” of last year, but he hasn’t had a healthy receiving corps this year either; you can’t win with practice squad guys, which allows teams to key on Peterson and neutralize him, like the Bears did.

Anyways, the Vikings defense has taken some heat for lack of sacks, and they are on pace to have half of last year’s total (and half of those came against Arizona) but otherwise it has been consistent with last year. Yards-per-game is about the same as last year, as have been the relative dearth of takeaways. At the midway point of the season, the Vikings’ takeaway total of nine was only worse than two other teams, but is not much worse than last year’s total of 24, which was in the bottom third of the NFL; the Vikings were the only team with a plus takeaway ratio that forced so few, mainly because Favre threw for a career low seven interceptions. With Favre’s turnovers galore this year, that weakness is only now more apparent.

As for the offense, Favre’s age and injuries is only a part of the team’s problems; after all, the Bears only scored three points on the ensuing possession following the Favre turnovers, and his yardage performance against Arizona should indicate that against a bad defense the Vikings can move the ball up and down the field at will. The Vikings were at the half-way point 11th in total offense (Green Bay is only 16th), but unlike last year they have had an inability to put points on the board. For the Vikings to have had any chance to repeat last year’s performance, Favre had to be as near flawless as he was then. The major difference is not, as many would suggest, that Favre is just playing terrible, and making terrible mistakes. Childress said after the loss against the Packers that just punting the ball was OK, except that the Vikings would be doing an awful lot more of that if Favre wasn’t being his usual “reckless” self—especially with that porous offensive line. Watching the Bears game, I never thought the Vikings were going to win it; with two starting receivers out and the other on a gimpy ankle, Favre—as he has been for most of the year—forced to do that dinking and dunking, but in this game the fourth and fifth-stringers were not getting separation even on the quick short routes, or dropping or juggling away easy catches. Favre was continuously forced either to try to laser the ball in tight places or throw the ball away. If the Vikings had any chance, Favre had to take chances, or they wouldn ’t be able to move the ball at all. As pointed out before, Peterson was a non-factor on the ground, and given the lack of receiving depth, the 53-yard touchdown pass to Harvin in the first half (before he was knocked out of the game) was example of Favre taking the chance to make something out of nothing. When it works, it is a great play that only Favre can make; when it ends in an interception, it’s a “bad” decision.

Speaking of bad decisions, Jenn Sterger did finally talk to NFL investigators. Her lawyer claims that she handed over “substantial material,” which several tabloid media outlets translated as “overwhelming evidence.” My guess is that Sterger presented a bunch of “material” that will give investigators a headache to sift through to determine if quantity equates to quality. I wonder if investigators asked her to explain why she was such an avid collector of male body parts sent to her from “celebrities” and “athletes” over the years (as Allison Torres testified to) and why they would feel comfortable doing that. They might not have done this if they knew that Sterger was going to store these on her computer for years. Why would she do this? For she and her friends personal amusement, as she originally told Deadspin? For a tell-all picture book? Or for extortion, just in case she her career was going into the hopper, as it is now?

It remains remarkable to me how the “mainstream” media continues to portray Sterger as a “victim.” Frankly, it just makes me nauseous just thinking about how Sterger expects “swift” action from the NFL—probably as swift as Comcast pulled the plug on her contract, probably for “character” issues as much as anemic ratings. It sounds to me that she wants “swift” action so she can hurry-up and sell her story before she runs out of money to pay her lawyer; I hear that Playboy is calling again, and since her career as a “serious” sports journalist is over, that seems the next step for someone whose career trajectory has based on selling her frame. It’s amazing how this sleazeball—who first claimed that she found all these “naked pics” and voice mails “fun to laugh at” with friends, now all of a sudden wants to play the moral paladin and justice-seeking victim.

There are a few people out there doing their homework, but only a few. Mary Ann Reitano of Bleacher Report wrote a three-part report on Sterger and her antics. “Who is Jenn Sterger?” To find out, Reitano states that her attempt to read Sterger’s blog posts over the years was an ordeal:

“To say that Sterger has a very high opinion of herself would be an understatement. Her posts focus more around what she does to keep herself in the mainstream of the sports pop culture than sports at all. If anything, the sports world is simply a backdrop for Jenn. Her lack of any sports analysis or even superficial commentary regarding the games she attended is very telling and she rarely references their outcomes…What we do hear about is all the “awesome people” she met, what a “great time” she had and an array of photos of her and “her fake girls” with anyone and everyone. She certainly is a walking photo-op.” Perhaps we can assume that what she means by “fake girls” are those with artificially-enhanced breasts, like the ones she has.

Sterger, despite the fact she has no talent for serious journalism, nevertheless is “her own biggest fan,” as revealed by these various references to herself:

“I call it like it is. I’m a brutally honest chick. I say what's on my mind: No B.S. No Drama. I hate girls who hate on other girls, especially people they don't even know. I hate overly vain individuals...I am a really vivacious person...just a good person...I’m the most loyal person you’ll ever meet...I’m loyal to a fault...I’m a pretend cynic...I laugh at my own jokes and swear people would find me a lot funnier if I had been born a dude. I'm an individual. I'm real. But most of all, I'm myself. You've never met a girl like me before and you probably never will.”

As I suggested in a previous post, when Sterger says she “hates girls who hate on other girls,” she’s just talking about girls who hate on her—not about her hating on other “girls,” like Erin Andrews. At any rate, I suspect that all the people who sent her “naked pics” of themselves” are probably wondering if someone like Favre isn’t safe from this “just a good person” and “most loyal person you’ll ever meet,” if they are next on her list. Reitano notes that this “good person” also derides all the “losers” using the worst pick-up lines “ever.”

Reitano also discovered this interesting tidbit: Sterger apparently deleted all her blog entries from August 12, 2008 to November 28, 2008—the entire period in which she was employed by the New York Jets. Very curious. One suspects that she might have said something in those entries that might not be “appropriate” to the current discussion. Perhaps some revealing comments that suggest a fascination with Brett Favre, perhaps? After all, as Retaino pointed out, Sterger also likes to talk about all the “awesome” people she allegedly knows.

There are other incongruities: Sterger, according to Deadspin, did not want to release the Favre voicemails and alleged pics, but eventually they “surfaced” from a “third party” for a price. Sterger allegedly has a degree in criminology from Florida State, but apparently it was no concern of hers that someone “borrowed”—or stole—the voicemails and pics off her computer and sold them to Deadspin without her knowledge and for personal own gain. Wouldn’t this be a criminal offense? Or more likely she gave them to another party to sell on her behalf, so that she wouldn’t be “tainted” by the connection. As Mike Florio commented, it had appeared that Sterger and her lawyer’s initial strategy was to “try to get Favre’s camp to offer a settlement without having to ask for it, possibly because asking for it could be characterized as extortion.” Florio went on to say that it appears that Favre called Sterger’s “bluff,” because he knows that “there’s nothing she can say that will lead to a conclusion that his conduct (whatever it may have been) was unwelcome.”

Meanwhile, the tabloid media (including Fox News and CNN) are wondering if this is the “end of Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame dreams.” As if he killed or raped someone, or betted on games. Commentators like Adam Schefter on ESPN still refuse to put the microscope on Sterger, for fear of being accused of being sexist and misogynistic.
It’s amazing how all these tabloid media sites are assuming the worst for Favre. I hope the NFL does the right thing and rule that Favre’s behavior did not conform with the moral standards expected of a married man, but otherwise that the evidence is at worst inconclusive that he had “harassed” Sterger, and at best apparent that Sterger engaged in a two-way “conversation” that she did not overtly discourage—and probably encouraged, given Torres’ testimony. Even if the league finds Favre at fault for personal conduct, if Sterger seeks legal action as some of the tabloid journalists say is “inevitable,” Torres (and others that might surface) would prove not only a damaging witness, but put Sterger in the light that most of the media (but not most of the public that has weighed-in on the ESPN and Fox Sports websites) has refused to shed on her.

What about Favre? He’s probably been living like a monk since this story broke; he has to answer to his wife and family, and not to the NFL, not to anyone who claims to be without sin and especially not to Sterger who used him just she used (or will use) many others in her climb to (in)famy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistace Day blizzard improved weather forecasting--a little

Anyone who lives in the Seattle area knows that local weather forecasting `seems to be done by alchemy, astrology or just plain guessing. Five-day forecasts are simply not to be believed, especially during winter; on occasion you will see weather forecasts that “predict” rain, hail, sleet, showers, snow, thunderstorms and sunshine all in the same day—and none of the above occurs. There was a time, of course, when weather forecasting was much worse. Back in the “good old days” weather patterns were little understood, and the jet stream—whose fast speeds and warped patterns frequently result in serious weather disturbances—was not discovered until World War II. I bring this up because while I was checking-up on the latest news on the Vikings saga on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website (doesn’t anybody like Brad Childress?), there was a story about the “famous” Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) blizzard of 1940. Even the second week of November is early for major snow fall in the Midwest, and people were caught completely off-guard by the storm that raged for three days. Although the "forecast" for November 11 called for cooler temperatures and snow flurries, it in fact began with unseasonably high temperatures reaching the mid-60s in some areas, but by evening winds were roaring—the same winds that took down the Tacoma Narrows Bridge a few days earlier—bringing with it rain followed by heavy snow as a low pressure system combined moist southern air with arctic air. But this is in hindsight; weather forecasters had little idea that this was about to occur. Residents in the Midwest, fooled by the initial warm temperatures, found themselves ill-equipped to cope with the storm, especially those caught in the countryside and on waterways. As much as 27 inches of snow fell, with snow drifts—whipped-up by winds of up to 80 mph—as high as 20 feet. People who were forced to venture outside were literally blown against buildings or forced to crawl. Over 150 people would eventually be killed as a direct result of the storm, as communications and transport were at a standstill for days.

The ensuing outrage over the failure of weather forecasters to accurately predict the storm led to the creation of more localized weather stations that updated conditions hourly instead of daily. World War II brought additional technology to enhance forecasting, including the discovery that radar could detect moisture patterns in the atmosphere. The least we can say is that meteorologists are better guessers now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Norquist's fantasy world

The other day I listened to Grover Norquist being interviewed by KOMO radio’s extreme right commentator John Carlson (who gets his jollies telling paranoid listeners “what happened while you were asleep”). Norquist talked about the tenets of his “leave me alone” theory of governance, which can be summed-up by this quote: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” In a nutshell, this means no taxes, no government, no regulation (well, except a teeny-tiny amount to go fight wars against the terrorists, and protect the rich from the poor). This, he says, is supposed to create jobs—a lot of jobs, so many jobs that everyone will have one. Everyone will have a good-paying job that enables them to afford decent health insurance, and be able to save enough money in order to retire at a still ambulatory age. No need for Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, welfare etc., etc. Bridges would never fall down, and roads would never crack. It will be a utopian world where no one will have a care to worry about. No need even to worry about getting an education; in the state I reside in, thirty years ago 75 percent of public higher education costs were covered by the state; twenty years ago, it was 50 percent. Today it is 20 percent. Will it be 5 percent in another decade? Perhaps by then only the children of the rich will need “worry” about the “privilege” of higher education.

The problem with Norquist’s theories, of course, is that we live in a much different world than the one he fantasizes in. We don’t live in a world where the agrarian economy predominates, and “self-sufficiency” shibboleth, if ever true, is not the mechanism in which economies or jobs grow. We don’t live in a world where there are sufficient jobs found in one locality, or where families all live together and have sufficient resources to care for their aged. We no longer live in a world where a nation has natural resources in sufficient quantities where it is not dependent on another. We don’t live in a world where a nation produces all its own goods and services. We don’t live in a nation where multi-billion dollar corporations have the national interest in mind. What we do live in is a nation where the national interest is subverted into more and more profits, most of which line the pockets of the richest. We live in “global economy” where corporations see the entire planet as sources of employment and consumerism. Creating a job or consumer in China or India is just as profitable—or more profitable—than creating one in the U.S. In order to create “full employment” in this country (in theory) and off-set this tendency means that wages must fall to “market clearing levels,” meaning the point where supply and demand are equal. Note that wages must “fall”—not rise. This makes sense to a certain extent—people can only buy so much of what they need, but it doesn’t take into account other factors, like continuously skyrocketing health care costs that eat into spendable cash, of which the Norquists of the world continuously fail to offer intelligible ideas to fix.

The Norquists of the world would tell us that we have to trust corporate America, the financial industry, and the insurance industry to play good Americans, and do what is in the interest of the nation, not for their own greedy selves. As we have seen especially in the past decade of Republican control, left to their own devices, the hoarders of wealth and financial gamblers in this country will leave average Americans in the ditch without a second thought. They will complain of allegedly high taxes preventing them from creating new jobs, except that the massive Bush tax cuts didn’t create jobs even one-tenth the level during the Clinton years. Instead of investing money in new growth and employment opportunities, they off-shored it, they gambled in unregulated financial casinos—anything to make certain that their pocketbooks became more and more bloated. They didn’t care about the condition of the nation or the path it was taking. Well, maybe they “cared” a little, but only in as much as they were creating jobs in other countries; I just read a story from the Washington post about high tech jobs going overseas. In Bangalore, India, engineers are designing lighter, more aerodynamic wings for Boeing jets, while a nearby call center handles U.S. credit card and banking customer service. Silicon Valley is losing high tech jobs to India and other countries. India has been pressed to reciprocate with investment in this country, but they complain of onerous work visa issues—that is to say, they want to employ Indian nationals, not Americans. Meanwhile, Boeing’s new 787 is now three years late on deliveries, and will be delayed still further after a recent electrical fire in a test plane. This and many, many other problems with production of this plane could have been avoided if Boeing had chosen to build the aircraft whole in this country and keep jobs and quality control local; instead of saving money building parts of the plane all over the globe like it thought it would, Boeing likely has cost itself billions of dollars in cost over-runs and lost orders. Stupidity and greed were never better bedfellows.

Someone has to pay for the fantasies of the Norquists, the libertarians, the right-wing media demagogues and the right-wing extremists of the Tea Party movement who carry the water for corporate America. These fanatics think that they can just wall themselves up like Prince Prospero while the rest of the country is mired in uncertainty, poverty and despair. But like for Prince Prospero, these people cannot escape from the reckoning. It will take time, given the stupidity displayed in the 2010 mid-term elections. Hopefully, it will only entail these deceivers losing favor with the public becoming wise to their game, that will only lead to one result: an uncivil society the nature of which none of us should wish to contemplate.

An evening fit for reflection of incidents past

The only time King County Metro Transit has someone operating the customer service line at 3 AM is on Daylight Savings Time shifts. Why? Because someone has to explain to confused or irate people who have to work at places that are open 24/7—like the airport—why the redeye buses haven’t showed-up. Last year at this time on Sunday, I woke-up at my usual time (2 AM) so that just in the case the bus driver didn’t change his or her watch, I would be at least an hour ahead of schedule. When I reached my bus stop, I waited an hour, then 90 minutes, then two hours. No bus. At DST-adjusted time of 4:30 AM, I called Metro customer service to find out what the problem was; there was, in fact, a human available to answer my questions. I was informed that the red-eye buses were running on Saturday’s schedule, and I was asked what exactly that meant, I was told that instead of arriving at 3:30, 4 and 4:30, the buses would arrive an hour earlier without taking into account the time change. The conversation continued in the following manner.

“I have been standing here since 2:15, and I haven’t seen a single bus pass here.”

“As I said before, the drivers make their usual stops in Kent at 3:24 and 3:54. That’s all they are required to do.”

"It's 4:30 now, and I haven't seen a single bus pass by here."

"Well, do you think it's fair that the drivers should wait an extra hour?"

“What? You just told me the buses are running on the Saturday schedule. That means there should have been buses here at 2:24 and 2:54 if they did not turn their clocks back. Anyways, why would buses run on that schedule if there is no one to pick-up”

“You’d be surprised how many people are out waiting for buses at that time of night.”

“You mean like I was?”

Of course, the conversation might also have gone something like this:

“I figured your drivers wouldn’t adjust their times, so I arrived at my stop an hour early, and I haven’t seen any bus.”

“Did you look at the schedule? There are no buses at 2:24 or 2:54.”

What the “customer service” rep didn’t want to tell me was that there were no buses running at all; the red-eye buses are just regular routes diverted to do early morning service. Instead of being “inconvenienced” by the time change, they are allowed to just turn in. Metro is tax-payer subsidized, and tax-payers and fare-payers have a right to expect proper service—or maybe not all of them. I have complained many times to King County Metro about real and perceived rude and discriminatory behavior and comments from bus drivers—both black and white—toward patrons who are (or appear to be) “Mexican.” I’ve already talked about some of my own experiences, including an episode where the driver drove right past me at the bus stop, let off a passenger at the street corner, slammed the door shut and drove off—dragging me a few feet because my arm was stuck in the door; you should have seen how frighten witless this bigoted bastard was when I told him I was filing a complaint to Metro. On a few of the buses on this particularly route I now see a posting claiming that “King County Metro Transit does not discriminate in the provision of service,” but if it does occur, there is an explanation of the policy, a phone number and mailing address to contact the General Manager, provided in four different languages. Except that the languages are all Asian languages—the minority demographic least likely to suffer from discrimination around here; there is no policy explanation in Spanish, for the demographic most likely to suffer from discriminatory behavior from Metro drivers. How to interpret this? Given the apparent culture of discrimination at Metro (I have never seen a Latino bus driver in almost twenty years), this must means that it is still “OK” to discriminate against “Mexicans,” because they have no rights a Metro bus driver is bound to respect.

Anyways, because I knew the red-eye buses were not going to be running, and I had no car, I had to make other arrangements, meaning that since the last bus to the airport from Kent leaves at 6:10 PM and the Port of Seattle police would kick me out of the terminal if I tried to spend the night there, I got a couple of hours of sleep before catching a late bus to Seattle, and then a link rail to the airport. It was around midnight, and I had to find some way to waste some time until it was safe for me catch a brief nap in baggage claim. There was a Denny’s down the street, so I decided to get something to eat while I waited. As I was entering the establishment, I noticed a King County Sheriff’s sedan drive into the parking lot. I ordered a burger and sat down on a sofa; at that moment a sheriff’s deputy burst into the place looking quite excited, looking this way and that way for the “Mexican” until he saw me sitting calmly in my yellow work uniform, and he managed to get control of himself. The reason for all this “excitement” was because a local “celebrity” was about to make her grand entrance—King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. Of course, nobody gave a damn who she was and I may have been the only person in the place who knew anyways. Frankly, I was surprised at how slight of build she was, at least compared to the two deputies who stood “guard" while she sat back against the wall in a corner booth.

I wondered if she had read my e-mail about the behavior of one her deputies (the one who looked and acted like Heinrich Himmler) on a bus that I wrote about last month, but I doubted it. I have filed many, many complaints about police harassment, and naturally I didn’t receive satisfaction from any one these that were adjudicated within police departments. The closest I came to scoring a victory over police harassment involved an incident that occurred when I actually had a car that police could arbitrarily pull over—an ancient 1978 Chevette that I removed from someone’s thankful hands for $700. Driving that thing was an adventure; when I was forced to take to the highways, it would shake, rattle and roll so bad that once I hit 55 mph I was certain it left pieces of itself on the road, the nature of which I pretended not to care. At the time I had a job in some “town” called Preston somewhere east of Seattle; it was one of those backwater places where white folks go to “get away” from “the elements.” One evening I was surfing the web too long and all of a sudden it was 1:30 AM when I had to be at be at work at 5:30 AM. I was so tired that I knew if I tried to get some sleep, I’d probably wake-up at 5:30 PM, so I decided to drive to the workplace and nap in the car. I arrived at around 3 AM. At about 3:30 I was awakened by a flashlight blazing in my eyes: it was in the hands of a state trooper standing outside. What the hell did he want? I tried to explain to him that I worked there and why I was early. But my explanation was of little interest to him. He told me he didn’t want to see me in his neighborhood again. That afternoon after work, I was driving down I-90 when suddenly lights were flashing behind me—a state trooper. What was this about?” I was driving steady with the traffic. I found out as soon as I pulled over: It was the same trooper I encountered that morning. With a shit-eating grin he informed me that he had clocked me driving 79 mph; I told him he was crazy, that this car shakes like jack hammer if I go over 55, and the car was not shaking. But it didn’t matter; he took my auto insurance card and went back to his car—laughing as he called the insurance company. When he came back, I told him I was surely going to contest the $180 ticket, which he found amusing.

A month later I found myself in traffic court. I had already written a lengthy letter to the judge describing events as I interpreted them: I was a victim of racial profiling and discrimination; the trooper had targeted me because of my “appearance,” and having spotted me on the highway (not very hard in that Chevette), sought to harass me out of the neighborhood by lying about the speed I was going and giving me an exorbitant fine. I also believed that it was unethical or even illegal to call my insurance company when I had valid insurance. The judge, who was black, told me he had read my statement, and I was allowed to repeat my experience in front of the other alleged traffic offenders, some of whom nodded their heads knowingly. The judge then asked me if I would acknowledge that I had indeed driven over the speed limit; I had observed that this judge was more willing to reduce fines if there was at least a little acknowledgment of guilt, and so I played along. The judge seemed to like me and my story, because it gave him an excuse to launch into a grand speech about how some people are profiled because of their hair color, their hair length, or the color of their cars. He didn’t mention skin color, but I’m sure the people in attendance were not oblivious of the implication. Here was an opportunity to exercise judicial authority to correct an injustice, and so my fine was reduced to $50. It wasn’t quite the victory over injustice that I hoped, but the point was made, and strangely I was never troubled by that trooper again.

Police beat update: The legal three-inch knife that Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was carrying, and prompted a crazed Seattle police officer to shoot him dead with four bullets in his side, was found on the ground—closed. The officer, Ian Birk, has been on a "routine" paid leave since August; he should have been fired immediately after his gun and badge were taken away in October, since he clearly has no business carrying either now or ever. But then again since when has morality and ethics--let alone accountability--been a part of the police rule book?