Thursday, July 28, 2011

Whether in this Washington or that one, politics is all the same

King County Metro bus service has been in decline for years due to diminishing revenues, partly from declining sales taxes, and from the passage of Tim Eyman’s first blockbuster initiative (well, the second after the anti-affirmative action I-200), I-695 in 1999, which did away with the excise tax on car tabs that had been keeping Metro afloat since 1976, reducing the car tab fees to a maximum of $30. Gov. Christine Gregoire—then the state attorney general—supported the initiative; a press release from Gregoire’s office stated that "’Our challenge was to distinguish between various monetary charges in a way that is consistent, principled and legally sound,’" Oh yes, “principle” again. “For purposes of I-695, the AG memorandum concludes that increases in charges for traditional governmental activities or services–such as fees to ride a ferry or use a state park–are subject to voter approval.” It seems that Gregoire had her eye on the governorship, and was cynically playing to populist sentiment. The short-sightedness of such a view is only now drawing more into focus, with Metro expecting a $315 million shortfall in revenue over the next two budget cycles. The state legislature voted to allow King County the authority to tack-on an additional $20 to the car tab fees in order to raise revenue to maintain a minimal level of bus service.

I sent an email to the King County Council about my concerns about the further reductions in bus service; I received a reply from four Democrats on the council—Larry Phillips, Larry Gossett, Bob Ferguson, Joe McDermott—who expressed appreciation for my support for the need of the car tab increases. I did receive one response from one of the “non-partisan”—the current euphemism for “Republican” in King County—members of the council, Kathy Lambert, through a staffer. Lambert’s district is so conservative that the last time she ran opposed was in 2001. Her message was as follows:

“Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding Executive Constantine’s proposed vehicle license fee increase for Metro bus services. Councilmember Lambert greatly appreciates hearing your direct feedback about the proposal. She has listened to input from citizens and reviewed the state authorizing legislation. Councilmember Lambert is not in favor of the Council approving a “councilmatic” increase in the vehicle license fee.

The current cap on vehicle license fees was set by a vote of the people, and she wants to respect that vote. Because the cap was set directly by the people, she feels any changes to the cap should also be decided directly by the people. Consequently, Councilmember Lambert will be supportive of sending the vehicle license fee increase to the ballot if legislation proposing this is introduced. She feels it is important to give the citizens of King County the opportunity to decide if they would like to increase their vehicle license fees.

By sending the proposal to the ballot, citizens will have the opportunity to evaluate information on the costs of Metro service, the distribution of bus routes throughout the County, the revenue shortfall, the status of the Transit Now sales tax increase that was approved in 2006, and the bus service changes that will happen even if the proposed vehicle license fee is approved as it is just a temporary two-year fee. Voters will then be able to weigh the individual costs of a vehicle license fee increase in their household with the Metro services that would be temporarily maintained as a result of the fee. If this proposal comes to the ballot, she hopes that everyone will have time to make an educated decision about the fee increase.”

Councilmember Lambert’s position mirrored her fellow Republicans', so I need not have heard from them. What exactly is she saying here? For one thing, we may ask “Isn’t making these kind of decisions what the voters paid her to do?” Or is it that right-wing voters in fact pay her to do precisely as little as possible? We can read between the lines of this act of political cowardice: It should be left to “the people” who clog the roads and pollute the air to decide if THEY want to raise the car tab rates. I once overheard an older gentleman say "Why should I vote for this school levy? I don't have any kids in school.” This is the typical attitude of people who believe others less monied should “fend for themselves”—it isn’t our “problem,” and we don’t see what the “problem” is anyways; it doesn’t exist, as far as we can “see.” Lambert mentions a sales tax increase in 2006, as if it was raining money on Metro; the sales tax applied to mass transit went up from 0.8 cents to the legal maximum of 0.9 cents. Over the past several years sales tax revenue across the board has declined, contributing to the current Metro shortfall; so what is Lambert’s “point?” There is none except to cast “suspicion” on Metro’s use of funds, despite all the evidence of steadily eroding level of service because of route cuts and driver layoffs. Lambert also hypocritically insinuates that even if the tab fees are passed, it won’t make any difference because it is a two-year fix, and Metro will end-up making cuts anyways. As usual with Republicans, she implies that this is merely a wasteful “stimulus” package; what she doesn’t suggest is that the economy will likely improve enough after two years that sales tax revenue will rebound.

But regardless of her motives, Lambert and the rest of the Council’s right-wing seems to believe that mass transit, which the many people rely on for their transportation needs because of inadequate means, is merely another part of “big government” that needs to be squashed—and there are a lot of voters who feel the same way. This is a measure of how ideology is more important than “community” for many people, mostly on the political right. The vote sending the tab increase to defeat was postponed, apparently because the council’s right-wing didn’t want to be manhandled by members of the public embittered by utter lack of understanding of the issues exhibited.

Of course, we see similarly problems with dealing with reality in the other Washington. Instead of making the common sense choices that most reasonable people know must be made, people like the Koch Brothers and their little monstrosity—the Tea Party “movement”—have set the agenda and made a quivering fear freak of House Speaker John Boehner. It is fascinating to see this man, who apparently has a drinking problem and has a habit of crying on command, claim that Barack Obama isn’t taking “charge” of the debt problem, when in fact he is the 99-pound weakling who wilts before the Tea Party, and appears utterly incapable of persuasion. On Rush Limbaugh’s radio show the other day, he literally broke down in tears (again), whining how Obama was making things too tough for him. Oh please, Mr. President, why can’t you make things easy for me, and agree to everything THEY want? The problem with the Tea Party “plan” is that they only want the poor and their safety net programs to suffer; the put-upon rich are not to be discomfited in any way.

With few exceptions, Republicans want to play political games with the nation’s wellbeing--with the Tea Party, in keeping with its "principle" of governance by corporate sloaganeering, immune from such ideas as cause and effect (and truth or consequences); they only want a temporary debt ceiling increase, to expire early next year, giving Republicans plenty of time to use it as a political football in the 2012 election year. Worse, the tacked-on balanced budget Constitutional Amendment requirement for the second increase,which has no chance of passing, shows the Tea Party's cart-before-the-horse mentality. This is not a "plan," it is an advertisement. But not everyone in the Republican Party is a blinded-by-ideology Tea Party member, can they? Sen. John McCain called out Fox News' serial liar Sean Hannity on his Tea Party-influenced propaganda concerning the debt issue; Hannity, after spouting some anti-Obama conspiracy theories on the debt discussions, dared McCain to say he was "wrong," and McCain did; on the other hand, McCain lied himself when he claimed that Obama didn't have a "plan"--remember the "grand bargain"?--and after agreeing to disagree on a number of topics with Hannity, McCain did remember that Obama was to blame for the entire national debt, after all:

HANNITY: Look, I just want to make sure that we are on the same page in this regard, the president caused this problem, not the Tea Party.

MCCAIN: I totally agree.

HANNITY: The Tea Party supported "Cut, Cap and Balance." I just want the responsibility, this president is not leading.

MCCAIN: The Tea Party I admire, respect and appreciate and they're the once that gave us the majority in the House of Representatives, so we can get something done. I'm proud and appreciative about them."

This a day after McCain referred to a Wall Street Journal editorial comparing the Tea Party to a bunch of "Hobbits." I guess nothing has changed after all; McCain the "maverick" was just a temporary deviation for this groupthink coward, turned into a jellyfish by a Fox News blowhard who deals in misinformation and lies. It took the phone-hacking scandal in Britain to dent Rupert Murdoch' control of the political debate there; what will it take for Americans to realize that the political debate is at least on one side controlled by similar forces?

On the other side, Rep. Paul Ryan tried to muster support for a "less" draconian measure than the Tea Party people wanted not by relying on their common sense (they have none), but more attacks on the president. Perhaps if Boehner tried the bi-partisan approach in the House, maybe something could happen; he’d probably lose his job, but at least would have been the proper—which in this case amounts to the courageous—thing to do.

Wake-up and smell the truth, people. Remember there was a surplus in Bill Clinton’s last budget—not because of Republican budget cutting, but because of the tax “adjustment” passed in budget reconciliation by the Democrats before the Republicans took over in 1994—that for some strange reason did not prevent a robust economy and 22 million in net job creation. In 2001, the CBO forecast that if the Clinton fiscal policies were continued, the national debt would be reduced to $2.3 trillion by 2011. Instead, we have a $14.3 trillion debt. Now what was that some Republican told us: “Deficits are good.” Our debt problem isn’t the fault of Obama, “Mr.” Hannity, but short-sighted Republican policies that benefited exclusively their wealthy backers. A close look at the Pew Center’s examination of the reasons for the exploding deficit last April suggest that Bush administration policies are responsible for as much as 70 percent of the current debt—and will continue to haunt the country’s fiscal regime.

As for Obama, it is not that he doesn’t have a “plan,” and has continuously punted the ball to Congress. The problem is that since Day One, the right-wing has run a non-stop campaign seeking to destroy Obama that has had a clear effect on the public, regardless of how “open-minded” they might claim to be; too many have drunk it all in, with the media’s help. Republicans did not respect the fact that Obama had a mandate for “change,” and they were rock-solid in the efforts to oppose any policy that he offered. With conservative Democrats an additional headache, Obama had little choice but to say “This is what we need to do. If you don’t like my idea, than give me yours.” It was easy to be frustrated with Congress acting like spoiled children, first in the Senate, and now in the House. Obama’s principle problem, as I see it, is that he isn’t the “tough guy” war leader that George Bush portrayed himself as, which apparently impressed a lot of people, and he tries too hard to speak to people like adults, and appears easily frustrated when it is clear that he is speaking to children. Unlike Bill Clinton, who “feels your pain,” Obama tries to reason with people, to no avail.

Whether in this Washington or that Washington, the only difference in the mendacity is one of scale.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Seattle Weekly shoots itself in the foot with Rule story

I must confess that while I know of Ann Rule by reputation, I’ve never read any of her true crime books straight through. I frankly prefer the documentary approach to history, not the novelized or highly personalized. When the Seattle Weekly recently published an article in which the author attacked her account of the murder of Chris Northon by his wife, Liysa, I expected a reasoned examination of the facts that at least took into account the clear premeditation of the act while supporting a different conclusion than Rule’s in “Heart Full of Lies.” I vaguely recall the October, 2000 killing in an Oregon campground; a man dead, his wife claiming to have shot him in self-defense, except that the circumstances were not just highly, but clearly, suspicious. But instead of reason, I read something far worse that what he accused Rule of: A 100 percent, unadulterated propaganda yarn spun by the perpetrator of the crime and her partisans—including the writer, more than he let on. The story was almost entirely a litany of unsupported allegations made by Liysa Northon and her “best friends,” treated as absolute fact by the writer. If Rule could be accused of not taking Liysa Northon’s own story seriously enough, we can hardly blame her. After repeating Northon’s allegations in the most lurid terms imaginable, the writer, Rick Swart, weaves the tale of Chris Northon’s last days on Earth in the following manner, as “remembered” by his wife:

“Then, on the night of October 8, 2000, a year after she'd first filed a restraining order, Liysa, Chris, and their youngest son went camping in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Being in the woods always seemed to put Chris in a good mood, so Liysa calculated that if she would ever be able to convince him to go to rehab—both for alcohol and drug abuse; Liysa says Chris used pot, cocaine, Vicodin, and the sleeping pill Restoril to excess—now was the time. Liysa screwed up her nerve. "You go to treatment or else," she says she told Chris. It was a remark she would immediately regret. Enraged by his wife's ultimatum, Chris hit, choked, and nearly drowned Liysa in the freezing waters of the nearby Lostine River. When the couple's 3-year-old cried "Don't kill Mommy!" Chris momentarily backed off. But the abuse wasn't over. Later in the night, an even more inebriated Chris told Liysa that he wasn't going to lose his job nor his family because of her complaints to the police. He told her that if anything happened, he was going to cut up her and the kids so that no one would ever be able to find their bodies. It was at that point, says Liysa, after Chris threatened her and her boys with dismemberment, that she finally decided to leave him for good. In her words, she "wasn't going to let the morning come" when someone else would find her dead. After the sun went down, a terrified Liysa snuck to the couple's Ford Explorer, reached into her camera bag, and pulled out a .38 revolver, given to her by a concerned relative. Her hands still numb from the icy river, she fumbled the weapon while trying to load it, causing it to misfire. Afraid the discharge had alerted Chris, she hurried back to the campsite to grab her son. Running in darkness toward the child, she heard Chris moving around. It sounded, she says, as if he was coming after her. So she fired once, turned, and ran away holding her son. She didn't stop. She didn't check to see if the shot she had fired had hit Chris. "I just ran," she says… After firing at Chris, she drove two and a half hours to her brother's home in Walla Walla and told him about the blind shot she had just taken. While Liysa took a bath and went to the ER, her brother called a friend who worked for a local police department and had formerly served as a Wallowa County sheriff's deputy. Shortly after Liysa went to see the former deputy, he received a call from his old boss, the Wallowa County Sheriff. Chris was dead. The shot she had fired had hit him in the temple. The deputy had no choice but to arrest Liysa for her husband's murder.”

Putting aside the question of why Northon set-up this “camping trip” when she allegedly had a restraining order on her husband, and was “deathly” afraid of him, what isn’t mentioned here is the real reason why the sheriff had “no choice” but to arrest Northon for murder: Because that is what the crime scene rather strongly suggested. Chris Northon was not killed by a “blind shot.” His naked body was found zipped tight inside a sleeping bag, with a bullet hole in his temple shot at point-blank range—so close that the bullet went straight through his head, driving feathers from the sleeping bag into the ground. The bullet had traveled at a straight vertical trajectory—that is, straight down at a sleeping man. He had also been heavily sedated—so much so that forensic specialists stated that he would have died from that if he had not been shot first. He had “consumed” enough of the sleep aid Restoril—so potent it is a controlled substance only available by subscription—that forensic toxicologist Robert Middleberg stated that it was enough to potentially cause a coma, and death. And Liysa Northon certainly came “prepared” if that plan failed: After fleeing the campground, Northon dropped-off a bag with a friend; inside, police found stun guns and handcuffs.

What are we to make of this? It is obvious that if we can plainly see that Northon felt no compulsion about lying about the manner of her husband’s death—suggesting a compulsive, self-convinced liar who seems not to even to take into consideration that the forensic evidence would be at direct odds with her story—why should we not approach the rest of her story with guarded skepticism? “Evidence” suggesting drinking and a possible “struggle” near the lake was present, but the compressed timeline just might suggest that Northorn had first drugged her husband, shot him, and then set-up an elaborate scene to fool investigators. What she forgot was the convincing death scene part. Because Swart had plainly not done research that might draw another conclusion than the one he drew—or rather the tale Northon drew—and showed contempt for the reader by allowing a plain lie to pass as fact, I was prepared to be angered by the rest of his propaganda speech. In a foul mood, I wrote the following comment:

“Just because Liysa Northon is your typical white yuppie doesn't mean her story is any more credible than Rule’s; after all, she is the one who has the motive to lie. Frankly, the mythology of domestic violence is, like sexual crimes, has become an all too convenient accusation that everyone is supposed to believe just by its very utterance. When the "perpetrator" is dead, such as in this case, there is a certain convenience that he is not alive to engage in a he said-she said discussion. The brutal beast and passive victim of popular mythology is the exception, not the rule. Frankly, if Northon found an easy mark in a gullible Swart, that is how the story usually goes.”

I didn’t know the extent of Swart’s gullibility until later, but we’ll get to that later. I have written here a few times on the domestic violence question, which has been portrayed in an entirely one-sided manner; since the law and activists choose only to see one side, where the one is all guilty and the other all-innocent, they ensure that it continues to be a problem. However, you cannot speak sense to the true believers, and I heard from them:

“You don't seem to be awfully good at reading. Northon's story is vastly more credible, because it's supported by a great deal of documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony that Rule chose to ignore. Most importantly, Rule clearly misrepresented the truth when she claimed that it was impossible for her to interview Northon. Thus, I have no reason to put faith in anything Rule says.”

“One of them had significant evidence of whether there was domestic abuse or not, and it wasn't Rule. You went into the article already having decided what you were going to take out of it. That makes you a bigot - and you're an ill informed one as well.”

“Domestic violence is all too real and obviously you have no experience with it. it is not a myth. must feel very good to be sitting in the judgement seat. Get Real.”

“Very scary comment. "Mythology" of domestic violence? No, it's not the "exception," I know of more than one woman (and man for that matter) that has experienced violence in a relationship; and faced disbelievers like you."

I didn’t say I “disbelieved” that domestic violence occurred, but who’s paying attention when all one see’s is red? I responded to these individuals by pointing out that there is nothing that can be proven in this case that makes this justifiable homicide, and if you think murder is ‘”OK” in some cases, well, I’ll have to disrespectfully disagree. Furthermore, the few credible studies on the issues show that this is not the one-note act the activists continuously sell it as; these studies show that women instigate the circumstances that lead to domestic violence at least as often as men, and are the perpetrators as much as 35 percent of the time. Yet even when the female is the perpetrator (or both are), police generally only arrest the man, since that is the politically-correct thing to do. In an apartment I once lived in, I heard a scuffle going on in the room next door. I then heard a knock on my door; a scrawny black guy wearing nothing but his shorts ,covered with scratches from head to toe, was standing there. He wanted to use my telephone to call the police; it didn't surprise me--his girlfriend was a big woman within an even bigger attitude problem, the kind of person who always threatens if you with violence if you say something amiss. I had to admit the man looked like something out of a TV sitcom; I don’t doubt the police made the same observation, if they came at all. And, by the way, I’m not entirely ignorant personally of what it is like to be on the receiving end.

It also should be pointed out that the witnesses to the alleged domestic violence against Northon were few and far between; her young son by a previous marriage—who “obviously” didn’t tell the story he was told to by mommy--usually seemed to be “hiding” whenever the acts were allegedly committed. Neighbors claimed to have heard arguments—but it was always Liysa Northon they heard shouting. “Witnesses” claimed to have seen bruises on Northon, but it wasn’t suggested that these were induced from the supposed “ugly scenes” in public; it has been pointed out by others that Northon was also the “athletic” type, and women do more easily bruise than men do. The mark on her face when arrested could have been self-inflicted, given what we actually know to be true what actually happened on that fateful night. We also know that Chris Northon—an airline pilot—did not enter into this marriage willingly; when asked why she was forcing herself in marriage on a man who really didn’t want to, Northon allegedly laughed and said it was for the “free tickets to Hawaii.” According to Rule, Northon was self-obsessed, and thought little of her husband’s own career, expecting him to be obsessed with hers and her seemingly endless needs—“warts and all.” These "warts" included mood swings that this lifelong bachelor apparently found difficult to take or to understand. I don’t see any reason not to believe her.

In any case, Liysa Northon has already had plenty of opportunities to tell her side of the story. She even has a website that she has been allowed to maintain while in prison; she’s obviously has had nothing but time and taxpayer money to perfect her version of events. I’m not saying that domestic violence did not occur; but this is a woman who had already discarded two husbands, and while she apparently liked her Chris Northon’s “tool,” from the start of their marriage she found nothing positive to say about her husband, and seemed to have a special glee in telling everyone about his shortcomings. I can’t imagine what it was like to live with such a person.

The fact is that outside her partisans and domestic violence activists, there have been few takers of Northon’s story. A 122-page brief was submitted on her behalf before a district court in Oregon, claiming that Rule had “defamed” her. The court threw-out the case, stating that it wasn’t enough for the plaintiff to claim bias; the plaintiff had to prove that statements made in Rule’s book were false, and the plaintiff failed to do so. In fact, the court pointedly criticized the failure of Northon’s complaint to cite a single sentence that could be construed as “false.” Northon’s disingenuousness and avoidance of uncomfortable facts further irritated the court:

“Among many other things, plaintiffs wholly fail to address that Liysa Northon smuggled a letter out of the jail, asking her friend to get rid of her computer, and saying ‘Destroy it ASAP. My Gateway could hang me because e-mails are forever on hard drive. Get it away ASAP. Soon. Please. Before someone searches your place’ (Book, p. 279-80); that Liysa Northon instructed her father to destroy his own computer with e-mails she had sent him, promising to buy him another one (id. at 280); that a few weeks before her husband was killed, Liysa Northon had asked her best friend for poison, Valium or sleeping pills, and where any swift-running rivers were (id. at 308); that she wrote an e-mail which appeared to have been to her father stating that ‘I am going to have to end it one way or another soon. There have been some really ugly public scenes, and my friends at the pool look at my bruises and don’t know what to say. Drowning is the best in terms of detection -- but I want a gun for backup and then we’ll have to get a sure-fire disposal method. Both of us will have to throw the computers away because I just read they can trace e-mail on hard drives’ (id. at 318); that she requested a silencer in an e-mail, apparently to her father (id. at 319); and that her own attorneys concluded that the prosecution would have a field day demonstrating that Liysa Northon had been planning her husband’s death for a long time, probably more than a year (id. at 329). Plaintiffs also do not address the fact that while Liysa Northon swore to Governor Kitzhaber that “my children and I were under constant threat of death” (RuleDecl. 28 and Ex. 18 thereto, previously filed), she chose to go camping alone with her husband in one of the most remote areas of Oregon and in the most remote camping space available. They further do not address that she concedes that she shot and killed her husband after already being inside her vehicle, and returning, instead of escaping, to shoot her husband while he slept. It is this evidence, together with many other inconsistencies and many other facts described in the Book, which form the basis for the Book’s conclusions. Plaintiffs simply avoid addressing any of this evidence.”


“Plaintiffs assert that plaintiff Liysa Northon was not properly portrayed as a ‘battered woman.’ (Pls.’ Resp. at 2, 14.) As the Book describes, Liysa Northon’s own defense attorney determined, based on all the evidence, that she could not be portrayed at trial as a battered woman; she just did not possess characteristics described in the voluminous studies on the subject. (Birmingham Aff. at 11-18.) Moreover, evidence recovered from her computer indicates that plaintiff was at the very least exaggerating her claims of abuse if not fabricating them entirely. (Birmingham Aff. at 9, 16, 21-22, 26.) And Judge Price concluded that ‘Ms. Northon had concocted a plan to make the killing look like self defense by a battered woman.’” The court may also have asked why, in the face of all these claims, did not Northon seek a divorce. The simple answer, given Northon's seeming insatiable lust for material goods now, was that a divorce would prevent her from getting her hands on Chris Northon's life insurance pot.

The 9th Circuit Court would subsequently throw-out the case with a brief dismissal, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case at all.

But what about the “big” secret I alluded to before? The Seattle Weekly belatedly discovered that Swart is the latest fish about to be snared by Northon at the altar, and not just that: “What we found out about Swart was that he was as controversial as you might expect the guy in charge of a small-town newspaper to be. He'd once been sued for defamation by a U.S. Senate candidate for an unflattering editorial, a case that was dismissed and a ruling that was upheld on appeal by the Oregon Supreme Court. He'd also been pilloried for taking the side of loggers over environmentalists, and waging a one-man campaign to get a local high school to stop using a mascot that was offensive to Native Americans.” He'd made friends. He'd made enemies.” But—“he appeared to have a long history of telling the truth.” Or maybe not.

Ann Rule was more blunt about the situation on her website—including the double-dealing of Northon with her “current” beau:

“Well, I guess the Seattle Weekly did some latter-day fact checking and found out that Rick Swart, the author of the malicious and libelous article about me that appeared on July 20th, hadn’t told them everything. He is, indeed, engaged to Liysa. He apparently doesn’t know that Liysa was also planning to marry another man at the same time she was seeing him (on visitor’s day). The other man, whose privacy will be protected, has scores of letters from Liysa planning their wedding. He contacted me because she was beginning to scare him. Chris’s best friend and I are going to meet with him soon. I also heard from Rick’s wife of twenty years who was understandably heartbroken that her marriage suddenly blew all to pieces because of Liysa. As far as I can tell, all of Rick’s information came from Liysa. And he apparently believes her. I have boxes and boxes and boxes of documentation about what really happened. You who have read the book will remember that Liysa set up the camping trip, and she made intricate preparations before they left for the river. She said she left the campsite once because she was “afraid” of Chris, and then came back. Why would she come back if she was so terrified? And poor Chris could not have made a move toward attacking her; he was unconscious, and zipped up to his chin in an Eskimo sleeping bag. He never knew what hit him when she fired a bullet DOWN into his forehead. There are dozens of facts in the book that explain what really happened, too many to mention here. If you haven’t read Heart Full of Lies, I hope you will. I feel most sorry for Chris’s parents who have suffered again and again from Liysa’s manipulations, lawsuits, and horrible things she says about them. And that was all after she killed their only son. I feel sorry for Chris’s son who will never know his dad–although Chris’s fellow pilots have been wonderful as substitute dads, along with Don King, who is raising the boy and Liysa’s older son.”

For myself, I’m willing to take the slings and arrows of Northon’s partisans and the fanatical activists who see everything in black and white. The truth does matter to me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Like father, like child

I admit to some fascination concerning Rupert Murdoch and his media empire’s current troubles, particularly if Fox News somehow becomes embroiled in it; after all, Fox News—which network chief Roger Ailes still laughably calls “fair and balanced”—has never shown itself to be adverse to employing deliberate misinformation, malicious and juvenile language, and using deliberately deceptive and fraudulent material from people like Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe to destroy “liberal” persons and organizations. Of course, there are some strange bedfellows in the media business; I find it immensely amusing that Arianna Huffington—who is both “disgusted” and “amazed” at the News of the World scandal—is good friends with Breitbart, and still allows him a spot on the Huffington Post, only not so prominently after he called Van Jones (a former environmental adviser in the Obama administration) a "commie punk," a "cop killer-supporting, racist, demagogic freak," a "cockroach," and a "human toxin." Fox News has been criticized in some quarters for not reporting the scandal in the UK, although some have defended it by claiming that an employee cannot be expected to rat on its employer. But since News of the World is no longer a functioning concern, this shouldn’t be a rationale for Fox to keep its distance.

In her post on the subject I just alluded to, Huffington was critical of the various media responses (or in Fox’s case, lack thereof) to the phone-hacking scandal, and then incomprehensibly wandered off into social media and then the Caylee Anthony case, and finally to the unemployed; I wonder if the books she is trying fob-off do the same thing. So I have to try to figure things out for myself. What interests me about the case is how quickly the wall of protection surrounding the News of the World’s illegal and unethical activities crumbled after so long a gestation. Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the paper who was recently arrested for complicity in the phone-hacking and police bribery activities, was only 32 when she was given the position by Murdoch in 2000. One wonders if someone that young has the experience and background to rightly judge where it is that the ethical line should not be passed. Brooks was in charge during the Milly Dowler incident, when a private investigator employed by the News, Glen Mulcaire—and then later its reporters—hacked into Dowler’s voicemail account, taking the time to erase messages so that they could be supplied with fresh bereavements. The very idea of it—quite apart from giving the false impression that Dowler was deleting the messages herself—disturbs. What did the paper expect to find of use from the missives of bereaved people? Or did they hope that the killer would actually come calling? And what did Brooks know and when did she know it? Or a better question is when did the police know? Surely they had access to the evidence of Mulcaire’s activities well before The Guardian did. In any case, it was not long after Dowler’s body was found that Brooks was transferred to The Sun, to be replaced by Andrew Coulson.

The News' activities were not exactly a secret even then; in March, 2003 Brooks admitted to Parliament that the News had engaged in payoffs to police officers. Accusations that British politicians were in bed with Murdoch proved to be well-founded, as nothing was done to punish or even stop the News’ activities—or at least not until the royal family became a complainant. A 2005 story in the News contained information that court officials claimed could only come from hacked royal family voicemail (a word-for-word quote from Prince William, ribbing his brother about the publicity from his visit to a strip club), and the following year Mulcaire the private investigator and the News’ royal family reporter were arrested for the crime.

Coulson resigned as editor of the News after the pair were sentenced to prison, although claiming that he knew nothing of their activities. Did he read his own paper, or were his ethical standards of such a low caliber he chose not to “notice” suspiciously “inside” information? Later testimony would suggest he did in fact know more than he was letting on. Surprisingly, as the editor of what essentially was a scandal sheet of the lowest form, Coulson was seen as fit material to become communications director of the Conservative Party; was this a measure of how entangled Murdoch and his media empire was in British politics, or was his particular “talents” deemed useful to advance the party’s right-wing agenda? One thing that it did signal was that the British government—and law enforcement—did not take the allegations against News of the World seriously enough. Colin Myler—formerly executive editor of the New York Post—replaced Coulson as editor of the News; his involvement in the scandal has yet to be fully understood.

Meanwhile, Brooks continued to rocket-up the News Corp. food chain. In 2009 she became CEO of its subsidiary News International; such was her position of power, that Labour prime minister Gordon Brown and his successor, conservative David Cameron, were honored guests at her marriage. Later that year, a competitor—The Guardian—reported that the News of the World was still hacking into the voicemails of public and private persons. It claimed that “senior staff” knew all about it, but the paper claimed that News International warded-off any adverse publicity by making substantial pay-offs to the victims of the News’ shenanigans—essentially hush money. This illegal activity was clearly an ongoing problem with the paper, yet there was no police investigation forthcoming. In February, 2010, a House of Commons’ committee report accused News management of having full knowledge of the “industrial scale” illegalities going in the paper. Despite the bad publicity, newly installed conservative prime minister Cameron still saw fit to appoint former editor Coulson as his chief of media operations. But Coulson’s days were numbered, despite the power of Murdoch; the New York Times Magazine subsequently reported allegations from former News staffers that Coulson not only knew about the widespread phone hacking, but gave it his implicit blessing. The Times also accused Scotland Yard of having a too cozy relationship with the News, exchanging exclusive information for thrilling stories of the Yard’s exploits.

From there, the end came fast and furious. Coulson resigned from the government. An embarrassed Scotland Yard began a new investigation, having discovered “new” evidence. Three senior members of the News’ staff were arrested; hoping to avoid complete calamity, the News admitted to only past misdeeds, and facing the prospect of massive lawsuits from victims of hacking set-up a large “hush” fund. One lawyer quoted in the Times story said that for people notified by police that their phones had been hacked, it was "Time to queue up at Murdoch Towers to get paid."

“Operation Weeting”—the code name for the Scotland Yard investigation—continued to trawl in more reporters accused of phone-hacking, The Guardian reported to have found evidence in private investigator Mulcaire’s papers of his activities in regard to the Dowler voicemail hacking; since this occurred during Rebekah Brooks’ tenure at the paper, she was implicated as well. Even more sordid tales came to the surface, with allegations that News reporters had not only hacked into phones of the 2005 victims of the London train bombings and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in fact the hacking started even earlier than previously believed—with the victims of 9-11. Murdoch, facing ruin of his plan to control Sky, and thus virtually the entire UK media, dashed to London for damage control—including shutting down News of the World for good—but it was too late. Revelations that Coulson had paid bribes to Scotland Yard officials led to his arrest. Finding his trusted protégés under attack, Murdoch tried his best to save his most favored non-family member, Brooks. Disaster after disaster followed; former prime minister Brown now accused two more Murdoch enterprises—The Sun and the Sunday Times—of hacking into his financial records, and more repellently, into the medical records of his young son, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Since it became clear that few in the country—even his political allies—could stomach the idea that Murdoch and his unethical and criminal minions could be trusted with control of Sky, Murdoch withdrew his bid, at least for the time being. And the “news” kept getting worse for the old boy: In the past week, Brooks was forced to resign as head of News International, and arrested a few day later. Les Hinton resigned his positions as head of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal; since Hinton preceded Brooks as editor of the News, this only makes sense if the police investigation into News revealed that he was involved in illegal activities at the paper.

Scotland Yard’s cozy relationship with the News had to have some repercussions, and police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson resigned, hot on the heels of allegations that he had hired Neil Wallis, yet another News staffer under arrest, as a “communications consultant.” Stephenson’s assistant commissioner also resigned, following heavy criticism of his refusal to renew investigations into the News’ activities after The Guardian’s report of widespread phone-hacking in 2009. Two days ago, Murdoch and an out-on-bail Brooks both denied everything, the latter perhaps less credibly; although in 2003 Brooks admitted to Parliament that she was aware of police bribery, now she claimed she hadn’t personally sanctioned it. Perhaps not surprisingly, denials (even if lies) are as good as the truth in the marketplace, because after taking a beating in recent weeks, the stock of News Corp. rebounded. With the News Corp board of directors considering replacing Murdoch as CEO, the only other “good” news was the sudden death of Sean Hoare, who was a key witness in the phone-hacking investigation.

Who is ultimately responsible for this debacle? Rupert Murdoch? The politicians who genuflected before him, fearful of his power to destroy them? Law enforcement that essentially bought good press in return for looking the other way? Murdoch certainly has the pompous conceit (sort of like Huffington, except on much greater scale) to believe that the very size and influence of his empire was immune from the consequences of a few” minor” ethics and criminal violations. What is more, his conservative ideology, in which the rights of individuals can be ignored or trampled upon in order to achieve a world ruled by his vision of the world, was manifestly on display in the current scandal. Murdoch—who once was forced to admit to a persistent interviewer who insisted on a straight answer that Fox News, far from being “fair and balanced,” does indeed have a deliberate right-wing political slant—chose to ignore rather than clamp down on illegal activities going on in his “flagship” UK publication. Not only that, he actually promoted people like Brooks and Coulson who he knew to be overseeing a den of illegality, because they “served” his agenda. Following his testimony on the 19th, John Dean commented on Keith Olbermann’s new show on Current TV that Murdoch showed no contrition concerning his employees’ activities, and repeatedly fudged and changed facts whenever it suited him. And this is the man who has given us Fox News—like father, like child.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When it comes to immigration, facts are hard to come by

The other day I was walking down a sidewalk, dressed in my work uniform, when I observed ahead of me two white women (they could have just as easily have been white men) talking to each other in a parking lot as they were preparing to enter a car. When they saw me approaching, they suddenly stopped what they were doing and stared at me; one of them made an exaggerated glance at a building they had just on the lot, as if to tell me that if I tried to “do something,” there was someone nearby to “dissuade” me from my evil designs. Their eyes kept following me as I walked past them; when I turned around ten yards further, they were still staring at me, as if willing me to disappear so that wouldn’t have to “worry” about me. Angered by their prejudicial assumptions, I called out “Adolf.” One of the women retorted “If you don’t like it, go back to where you came from,” which frankly is not very original. Where I “came from” is Cleveland (and I have no plans of going there--it is too cold in the winter), but obviously these two had some other assumption. One interesting aspect about the darker side of human nature is that people who hold prejudices and stereotypes about certain groups is that they like to dish out the abuse, but when confronted with their ignorance or the falsity of their beliefs, they become even more enraged and entrenched. Their hatred is so strong that they recoil upon any evidence that their beliefs are based on myths and propaganda, and rather accept that not everyone conforms to their beliefs, fall back on even more extreme and unreasonable beliefs. It would be like me regarding all white people as Nazis, which I know, of course, is not true.

Most Americans believe in the myths and stereotypes perpetrated by politicians and the media. In a rare bit of reporting, a recent USA Today story debunked the myth that the U.S. side of the Rio Grande is more violent than the rest of the country, which 83 percent of Americans believe. The reality is, largely because of local and federal law enforcement presence, it actually has less crime than most other areas of the country. Yet the anti-immigrant activists, the Sheriff Joe Arpaio-types and those who use anti-immigrant propaganda for political gain cry foul; instead of accepting statistical evidence, they make-up their own “facts,” claiming that “underground” crime is not being counted, as if it is elsewhere in the country (as an aside, even the “popular” media can’t avoid “benign” stereotypes; I don’t know what political slant George Lucas is, but I wonder if he told Cheech Marin that the character he was voicing over in one of the Star Wars “prequels” would have flies swirling around him; I’m sure if he had been told that this character would include this ugly caricature, he would have insisted on their removal).

As far as “liberal” media is concerned, if people are under the impression that the Seattle Times falls under that category, they may be misjudging it. For a newspaper with only a few pages of print, the Times certainly uses-up quite a bit of space on inflammatory stories on the immigration question. Here are a few recent headlines:

“State says new driver's licensing rules foiling outsiders”

“13 counties to join crackdown on illegal immigrants accused of crimes”

“Climate of fear grips Forks illegal immigrants”

“'Twilight' town death sparks Border Patrol debate”

“Mistrial in trial of armed man wounded by Seattle police”—this case concerned a Latino shot by yet another police officer who thought he was “in danger”; the man did have a weapon on his person, but it was found to be unloaded--thus to say he was "armed" was a slight reach. The hypocrisy here is that it is the Latino who is being tried on a “deadly” weapons charge.

“Illegal-immigrant numbers in state jump 35% in 3 years”—actually zero percent, which I’ll discuss in a little while.

“Lawmakers want more security on northern border”

“WA wants to send illegal immigrant inmates to feds”

“Immigrant issue raised in Olympia as lawmakers struggle to make cuts”

“Bills would prevent illegal immigrants from getting state licenses”

“State lawmakers join debate on citizenship”—another attempt to change the Constitution regarding citizenship for those born in this country.

None of those stories provides any background, context or information that might bring fresh insight or proper perspective to the immigration issue. In order to provide some, let's look at some of the numbers. According to the Pew Foundation, which unlike right-wing nativist “information” outlets actually attempts to compile accurate information with a minimum of partisan posturing, 78 percent of illegal immigrants are from Latin America, 13 percent are from Asia, and 9 percent are from Europe and Africa. Any figure applied to the total number of illegal immigrants in this country is little more than guesswork, but let’s assume the number is the commonly bandied about 12 million. Applying these numbers to the 2010 Census breakdown of population by race and ethnicity, this means that 18 percent of Latinos, 11 percent of Asians and .5 percent of whites and blacks are illegal immigrants. The percentage of Latinos who are presumably illegal probably doesn’t surprise many people (some hardcore xenophobes think they are all illegal), but I’m certain the percentage of Asians who are illegal probably does surprise some people, and is even inconvenient to know. Probably even more surprising is that they are not targeted by the ICE, probably because it costs too much to deport them.

Now, the Seattle Times quotes the number 230,000 illegal immigrants in the state, and gives the impression that all are Latino. Washington actually has a large Asian population, about 2/3 that of the Latino population. If we use the national percentage, there would be 135,000 Latinos who are illegal in this state, 55,000 who are of Asian extraction and 25,000 who are black or white; just to make people “happy,” I’ll tack on an extra 15,000 on the Latino total. But even if we assume that the 230,000 describes the number of Latinos who are illegal, the total number of illegal aliens is still being deliberately downgraded by as much as 80,000 for what can only be reasons of scapegoating and racism against Latinos.

The Times’ deliberate campaign of anti-Latino misinformation doesn’t stop there. It ran a story claiming that 5 percent of the state’s population were illegal Latinos, an increase of 35 percent over the past 3 years. This would mean that there are 335,000 illegal aliens in the state, although the story still quoted the 230,000 number. It turned out that Lornett Turnbull—who wrote the story and is the principle perpetrator in the Times’ campaign—mistook the number given for Washington DC for those of the state (Turnbull is actually considered a “spokesperson” for illegal immigrants by some readers, apparently because she doesn’t go far enough to satisfy their race hatred lust). The actual percentage supplied by the Pew Foundation was 3.4 percent, which is about 230,000—which suggests no percentage increase at all. But again, the question is whether those numbers apply only to the number of Latinos who are illegal or the total of all who are illegal. Another story claims that illegal immigrants cost the state $272 million in public services a year; again this is deliberate misinformation given without context intended to inflame prejudicial passions and obfuscate the real problems this state has. No one, illegal or not, is immune from Washington’s regressive tax system, and some even benefit from it; the wealthiest pay less than 3 percent of their income in state taxes, while the those who make $20,000 or less pay 17 percent of their income in state taxes. Sales and property taxes do not discriminate between legal and illegal. The stupidity of lawmakers in this state is manifest by the fact that they will willingly forego what tax revenue they can get in order to score points with bigoted voters—while those wealthy fortunates who pay so little are untouchable. The Times, of course, was the hysterical opponent of the income tax initiative on the wealthiest state residents in the 2010 election.

Although the Times did report that despite their large presence in Yakima, Latinos are completely voiceless in that bastion of right-wing extremism—due mainly to city council elections held not by district, but city-wide; as long as whites are in the majority, it is almost impossible for a Latino to be elected. For one to be elected, according to Yakima whites, they must be “conservative”—meaning towing the anti-Latino line, or being silent on their concerns. Despite the obvious discrimination inherent in this, the Times subsequently printed the effusive story about “Secure Communities” which I recently wrote about. It was the paranoid all-white Yakima city council that approved this first compact with the devil (as opposed to San Francisco, whose mayor in June ordered the police to release immigrants stopped on misdemeanor and traffic offenses but held in jail to determine immigration status, after the ICE refused to stop their abusive “Secure Communities” activities in the city). Complaints of gang activity, while predictably ignoring the role of poverty and discrimination, assumes that immigrants come here to be gang members. They don’t. They come here to work and survive. As I mentioned before, studies have shown that gang problems tend to be a second and third-generation phenomenon: it is native-born residents who learn the hard lesson that they are hated, and act accordingly.

The hate has become so widespread that the nativists and xenophobes to do not make distinctions, and regard Latinos regardless of legal status as the “enemy.” Pat Buchanan, as I noted before, claims that Latinos “are out to destroy America.” Every story the Times prints that contains the words “illegal,” “immigrant” or “Mexican” is sure to draw out the dregs of society to empty out their racist minds on online comment pages. Someone who claims to be “a good man” with the handle “can’t keep down” posted a dozen remarks on one story—except that a Times moderator deleted them all. Frankly, I would have liked to see what kind of hatred the Times was inspiring just by continuously “illuminating”—or rather, failing to illuminate, the immigration issue. Most comments are deemed “acceptable,” although it really depends on the amount common sense one has to regard them as so. Here is a sample of the more "moderate" variety:

“Latino's have not kept pace because most are here uninvited, living outside of the law and use an X to sign their name.”

“Why does our government take pitifully small steps to ‘protect’ communities by waiting untill after they ‘have’ committed more crimes before taking any corrective action? Expell ALL illegal invaders "before" they have a chance to commit further illegal acts. SEAL THE BORDER.”

“I have never been able to understand how someone who steals another family's income is making a contribution to society.”

“Our Government, has allowed the invasion of 30 million criminals in direct violation of Article IV, Section IV of our Constitution. they force American tax payers to pay Billions to provide Welfare, Prison cells, Educate the invaders children, free medical care, massive document fraud, & are destroying our schools, hospitals, communities, culture while Robbing, Raping, Killing & Assaulting American Citizens WAKE UP PEOPLE!” (This person provided a link to a website called “,” which claims to keep in real time “accurate” numbers in regard to illegal immigrants. The current “count”—it goes up by the minute--claims that there are 23, 531,529 illegal aliens in the country, double the generally accepted figure, of which all but 606,175 are “Mexican.” This is obviously disinformation at its baldest; but the “worse” the number, the more “satisfied” the racist is. It claimed that 12,255,892 “skilled” jobs were “stolen” by illegal immigrants, again an outrageous and deliberate bit of misinformation. The website admits that its “methodology” is prone to “minor” mistakes, but it plainly deals in deliberate inflation when it bases its numbers on 11-12 million illegal workers, when every such estimate includes dependents and non-workers. Note also that there are slightly more “skilled” jobs than actual workers).

One funny farm candidate made a “comparison” between “Joe Legal” and “Jose Illegal.” I won’t go into each of the completely imaginary and invented variables that eventually lead to “Joe Legal” having to work two jobs to keep food on the table while “Jose Illegal” gets to enjoy his family on the weekends with no fiscal worries at all. Suffice is to say that ignorance is bliss to the hardcore xenophobe.

One commentator tried to offer some reality on the driver’s license and voting fraud issues, but to no avail:

“I have known hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal immigrants in my lifetime. I have never heard of a single one having voted, or wanting to vote. The idea that an illegal immigrant would risk deportation just to vote is laughable. These people go out of their way not to be noticed. Take as little risk as possible. They have spent thousands to get here. There's absolutely no benefit and great risk. Illegal immigrants voting, sorry, it just doesn't happen. If you want to make an argument against illegal immigration, come up with something that is at least somewhat believable. A driver's license is good for driving, open bank accounts and convenient piece of ID. That's all that's being used for.”

But what does the truth matter? During times of labor shortages, especially in the agricultural and sweatshop industries, the “natives” tolerated undocumented workers. But when times become tough, they hypocritically turn on them and blame them for everything, and then some. And who are these “criminals?” Many, and perhaps most, of these immigrants from the south are indigenous peoples, just like Native Americans. Both have suffered removal from their lands and general discrimination. The difference is that in the U.S. the indigenous peoples were given a certain amount of autonomy, and basically “paid” to stay on their designated plots—essentially becoming wards of the state. In Latin American, the indigenous people were left to fend for themselves, kept in line by brutal U.S.-supported right-wing dictatorships in places like Guatemala and El Salvador. In Mexico, indigenous peoples in the Chiapas region have risen-up in the form of the Zapatista movement, which is just a more public manifestation of socioeconomic inequalities in the country; the movement blames, among other things, their impoverishment on free trade with the U.S., whose produce receives unfair price protections (one of the few exceptions to the “free trade” rule), and has had a detrimental effect on the poorest farmers in Mexico. Since their livelihood has in sense gone to El Norte, and the myth of job flight going south of the border (rather than to Asia) is just that, it shouldn’t be a shock that that they are heading this way. They have no secret “agenda” other than simple survival. These people know they will face discrimination in the U.S., and will be used and abused at the same time, yet they are willing to risk it for the sake of living by their own labor, not by crime as is the popular stereotype. Unless, of course, honest labor is considered a “crime” if you are the wrong “ethnicity.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Final thoughts on soccer final

It couldn’t have been a more fitting conclusion to the women’s World Cup: Hope Solo jumping up and down, flapping her arms about in a fulsome effort to distract Japan’s expressionless Saki Kumagai—who never once looked in Solo’s direction and calmly booted the ball past the flailing U.S. goalkeeper for the winning margin. Time to go home now. It must be confessed, however, that losing is only marginally worse than winning as far as American soccer is concerned. After all, how many people remember that the U.S. women won the very first women’s World Cup in 1991? Or in 1999? They haven’t won the cup since, but unlike Olympic softball, where U.S. women dominate because it isn’t yet an “international” sport—and likely never will be—it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world, more soccer-mad than the U.S., caught up. As I mentioned last week, the U.S. women’s initial advantage was that they had a greater pool of athletes to draw from due to the limitations of professional sports options. The U.S. soccer team will continue to be a potent force on the international scene, but as far as drilling into the American sport’s psyche, that moment has already passed, and despite all the cheerleading on ESPN (naturally, because they needed to boost ratings) and the media in general, winning probably wouldn’t have been much more significant in the long run. We may recall that in the 1970s, men’s soccer was “all the rage,” but even with a mega-superstar like Pele attracted by big dollars to play in the U.S., it turned out to be just a temporary fad.

What we are left with is a lot handwringing and finger-pointing. For example, one late night Fox Sports radio host mentioned that despite the rumors that U.S. women’s sports was heavily represented by those of the alternative sexual orientation, he thought that a couple of the soccer players looked like they might have kids in the future; it was an admittedly silly thing to say, and one that could easily be misconstrued. I suspect that people who otherwise do not listen to sports radio, but were adamant that the “right” things were being said about the women, jumped on the phone lines. The radio host spent the next two hours fielding calls from people who accused him of being small-minded and bigoted for just making the observation. To me, the sexual orientation of the players is only of interest in the context of the fact that there were no racial minorities on the team; it might be a more interesting conversation to discuss the connection between sexual orientation and race on the U.S. team.

However, both national and local commentators concentrated their complaints on the “unsatisfying” way the finals ended, on penalty kicks. This was a bit hypocritical and sour grapes, considering how the media gushed over the U.S.’ “thrilling” triumph over Brazil on penalty kicks. According to them, soccer should institute an overtime period rather than “extra time,” and the “golden goal”—i.e. the first goal in overtime—would be the match winner. Of course, if that was the rule in the U.S.-Brazil match, then people would not be bellyaching about the U.S.’ misfortune, since they wouldn’t be playing in the World Cup title match at all.

Since many people bemoan the fact that women’s sports do not generate the kind of rapt attention that men’s sports do, the media made out the U.S. team as “all the rage” and tried to force feed that impression. The television ratings for the final were “impressive”—7.4, or 13.5 million viewers, which would have propelled it into the top five for the week in the Neilsens. Nevertheless, it was a special, one-off event, and suggests nothing about interest in the sport. It was almost 50 percent off the 1999 women’s World Cup final, which the U.S. won against China, and 15 percent off the Spain-Netherlands men’s World Cup final last year. But to put this in proper perspective, if soccer in this country was as popular as it is in many other countries, we would be seeing Super Bowl XLV-like numbers--a 46 rating and 111 million viewers. Worldwide, there were allegedly 400 million “tweets” made during the match given as evidence of the “rage”; but a “tweet”—like that made by a bird—can be nothing more than a barely literate sound, like “goal!” or “good play” or “bad call.” A person can post hundreds of them all by his or herself.

Still, I have to admit that in spite of the degree of dislike I felt for the U.S. team and its egotistical face, Hope Solo, I found it impossible to root for Japan, since there racism is an ingrained part of the culture. So I didn’t give a damn who won. I did find it interesting that no one in the media talked about the make-up of the U.S. team (save for those wanting to make sexual-orientation an issue). I scoured the web, and it was impossible to find anyone who was at all disturbed by it—which may be more a function of how of little importance the vast majority of Americans apply to the sport.

Did I say impossible? Well, nothing is “impossible.” I found this commentary from a certain “Professor Harold Black”:

“I admit I am not a soccer fan but we have been inundated with US women's soccer and the world cup. This is the whitest, least diverse squad I have ever seen. It makes the BYU sports teams look like the University of Memphis. There is not a single black or Asian player. There is one Hispanic surnamed player who looks like a blond Barbie. This is in contrast to the men's squad that has Hispanics, blacks and Asians. That squad looks like America. Yet I have heard not a single word of outrage among the usual suspects. Where is Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Or even Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi? Yet Germany (Muslims), Canada, the Brits, Brazil all have diverse squads. I have not looked at all the team photos but I would not be surprised by a diverse Swedish, Columbian or Australian squad either. I would be surprised by a diverse North Korean or Nigerian squad (but maybe they have diverse tribal groups). But that the US is not diverse is a travesty. It is hard to imagine that there are no world class minority women soccer players in the US. I would have thought that Title 9 would have increased these numbers dramatically. So please someone: what is going on?”

Well for one thing, professor, it is bad manners to accuse white women of racism; after all, if you ask a feminist like Eleanor Smeal, another thing that this country suffers from is “racism against white women”—which, of course, suggest a strong element of self-centricity. If you ask a white supremacist, he or she will say that the women are simply applying the “natural” order of the world. There are others, of course, who say that this is not an issue at all, and that even mentioning it constitutes racism on the part of the offended party. On the other hand, white men might not be able to jump, but it would be unthinkable not to include at least a couple of them on an Olympic basketball “dream team.” So what gives? As I suggested last week, I really do believe that quite opposed to the myth of inclusion, empathy and universal sisterhood, women are in general more self-centered than men, and when you get a bunch of white women with a combination of massive ego with a touch of white superiority together with a dash of victim mythology, you tend to have such a resulting “team.”

Am I being too hard on women? I don't think so. After all, their "spokespeople" in the media and academia set themselves up for a hard fall with all the "superior than men" rhetoric backed-up by at best highly debatable "evidence." If they mean morally and ethically, it's a matter of relativity, not of fact.

There are those who wonder what’s next for women’s soccer until the next World Cup. There is a women’s professional league in this country, which I’m sure that almost everyone for whom soccer is not life-and-death is completely unaware of. The only thing that would interest me is what that 2015 team will look like. One thing that I hope is that Hope is not a part of it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Just pawns in the game of life

When I was a temp worker, I had some rather interesting experiences, some more enlightening than others. The following story concerns a job that had a lesson about business practices, regulation, and labor unions—all within the span of a few minutes, although the run-up to those revelations took over a month of complete ignorance:

I was directed to meet with some other temps at a warehouse in Renton. The new owner of the warehouse was a company that was relocating from Seattle. A supervisor from the company met us inside the building, and gave us some brief instruction about what we were expected to do. The warehouse was empty save for one section occupied by about ten or so rows of pallet shelving, an electric lift, and various tools. The job was simple enough: take apart the shelving, and stack it in a neat and orderly fashion. So we dislodged the long metal bars with hammers, load them on the lifts, stacked them off to the side segregated by size and type, and then used power tools to remove the large bolts from the concrete floors to dislodge the vertical poles that kept the horizontal bars in place.

It only took only a week to accomplish that task, and I thought that was the end of the job. But the supervisor had another job for us: re-install the edifice in another section of the warehouse. We were all “experts” by now of taking apart things, but we were strictly amateurs at building things. The supervisor gave us some placement measurements and a tape measure, and supplied an electric power drill to bore holes in the cement in order to hammer in the long bolts used to secure the vertical poles. After watching us work for a few days, he told us we were doing a great job, and told us that we could come in as early as we wanted and work as many hours as we wanted, only to just remember to plug in the electric-powered equipment before we left, to recharge the batteries overnight; he would leave the key to the building in a lock box next to the door that was not actually locked. Being temp workers, we welcomed the opportunity to make a lot of overtime pay. I took a redeye bus from Seattle, arriving at the warehouse at 4 AM, and worked until as late as 6 PM. The work was actually rather fun, hammering the bars in place and observing our handiwork taking proper shape with a certain amount of pride. The supervisor made one or two appearance to see how things were going, but otherwise we were completely on our own.

I would notice that during the day, employees at the nearby warehouses took an overly keen interest in what we were doing, although they never spoke to us. After four weeks, most of our project was completed, and I rather loathed for the job to end. But this job would end, but not quite in the fashion that any of us expected. We were hammering away one afternoon when a bearded man we had never seen before walked into the building, a rather wide smirk on his face. He grandly announced that if we did not vacate the premises in fifteen minutes, he was going to call the police and have us arrested. No one knew what he was talking about and what we had done wrong, but just the threat of arrest was sufficient to comply. I called the supervisor the inform him of what was going on, and for some reason he didn’t seem the least surprised or disturbed. Before I left, I asked the intruder why we were being kicked out, and he was genuinely surprised that we had no idea why he was there; we were just temps who were doing what the supervisor told us to do. I was told that the company who hired us had a city permit to take down the shelving with non-certified workers, but not to put-up the shelving with non-certified (or rather, non-union) workers, apparently for safety code reasons.

So what happened? The company that employed us thought they could skirt regulations by surreptitiously employing a bunch of guys who did not know the “rules” and were eager to work. Being surrounded by older white guys working at the nearby warehouses, the mostly “ethnic” composition of our workforce aroused suspicion, particularly given the odd hours we worked. Someone must have spied on our doings, and deciding that we were working illegally, called a city inspector. The attitude of the supervisor when I called him made it clear that he was well aware of the fact his company was engaged in something not entirely legal. I can’t say exactly how it felt to be a pawn in a cat-and-mouse game with city regulators in the run-up, but it was exciting for a few minutes at any rate.

Truth is not always what you wish it to be

TIME magazine recently served-up yet another gender-obsessed article entitled “Why Women Are Better At Everything.” I mean, who really believes that except women obsessed with “equality.” It is like a short person trying to compensate for their shortness by claiming that they are smarter than the tall person. Sometimes it is true; Paul Simon is supposedly 5-foot 2-inches tall (some say shorter) and Prince is under five feet, according to people who have seen him close-up. Despite their shortness, no one denies that their musical talents far exceed most of their contemporaries (and I dare say those plying the “music” trade today). But they are still short, and both are reportedly extremely self-conscience about this “disability.” Remember Alan Ladd in the Western film classic “Shane”? He was 5-foot-5; it was reported that he stood on boxes to stay in the frame, or his co-stars stood in trenches. It took some crafty camera work to make the brawl with the six-foot-two Ben Johnson look like something other than an unfair fight. Women—or at least those who spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on the matter—see the world as far too dominated by the accomplishments of men, so they need to find some way to “even” the imbalance. How do they do this? By continuously referring to “studies” that have little or no relation to the real world, but do provide a consolation prize for the ever-expanding ego.

Now this latest TIME article—following a parade of other articles that claim that women are “better” at this, that and the other—claims that women are even superior in was is apparently the last bastion of male dominance, the business and finance world. A study by Barber and Terrance Odean “found that women's risk-adjusted returns beat men's by 1% annually. A 2005 study by Merrill Lynch found that 35% of women held an investment too long, compared with 47% of men. More recently, in 2009, a study by the mutual fund company Vanguard involving 2.7 million personal investors concluded that during the recent financial crisis, men were more likely than women to sell shares of stocks at all-time lows, leading to bigger losses among male traders. It also meant fewer gains when some of the stock values began to rise again.” Apparently all this has to do with the amount of testosterone men have, which leads them to be over-confident and do stupid things. However, these numbers may also reflect the fact that in the past few years the number of women choosing to work in or leaving trading and finance jobs on Wall Street have decline precipitously, leaving either the “best” or an insufficient pool for a credible comparison. At any rate, it is claimed that women have less testosterone, and so obviously they are less likely to do “stupid” or risky things. The women—and men—are who are making these inferences are generalizing in the extreme when they are not simply making things up as they go along to “explain” preconceived notions or find “faults” where there is none. Businesses cannot grow without some risk-taking; in the current state the economy is in, employers seem to be taking the low testosterone road, with something less than empathetic results for millions of unemployed people.

As if the dull blade was twisted in enough, women are also better soldiers, because they complain about pain less, according to Meredith Melnick, who wrote the article. It is statements like this that flushes womens credibility right down the toilet. “They're less likely to be hit by lightning because they're not stupid enough to stand outside in a storm. They remember words and faces better. They're better spies because they're better at getting people to talk candidly.” You mean, like, in bed?
“Of course, to most women none of this is much of a revelation.” Is Melnick merely trying to get a rise, or is she serious? If it is the latter, then she probably needs to get back on her medication.

It’s very easy to find gender warfare on the web, and it’s mostly BS. Some people believe that at some point in the distant past, human ancestors of both genders were “the same,” but their roles and accomplishments diverged until our own enlightened times when the rejoined at the same intersection. Gender differences were all arbitrary and societal in nature, and once “society” was removed as a hindrance, women began flexing their natural superiority over men (I’m just telling you what THEY are saying). The problem with this argument is that we view a different phenomena among our “ancestors” we are sharing the planet with today. In almost every higher species of life—particularly mammals—the male animal has a clear and separate role that requires at least physical supremacy over the environment in which he dwells. The principal difference in the human species is that in many aspects of existence, the brain and the power to reason can overcome limitations of the body, although certainly not in every case, such as in constructing the trappings of modern urban civilization. The fact that the gender politicians conveniently ignore this fact is part of the reason why taking them too seriously is both illogical and dangerous at the same time. Today, colleges and universities are wide open to women, in fact a majority of undergraduates are women. Yet the vast majority prefer to go into the subjective fields, such as social sciences and the “liberal arts”—the kind of fields that have little impact on the maintenance of the infrastructure of modern civilization. It has nothing to do with stereotyping as children or bias later; they are either just not interested, or there are reasons of a more objective nature--or what in the sports world are called the "intangibles."

Of course, with TIME on a roll, it couldn’t stop with the “women are superior in every way” shtick; the call of victimhood is just too great. In the “Get a Life” department, the magazine complained about a “racy” ad campaign featuring the top women tennis players. The women were dressed in the typical fashions of the day, their bulging forearms and biceps bursting forth from the willowy fabric; this is not always a pleasant sight to behold, but the WTA is banking on enough of the players will strike the right balance between, uh, what was that—“beauty and power?” TIME is upset that this ad campaign “demeans” the players by focusing too much on the “beauty” part, and as usual it allows politics to get in the way of reality. In the grand slam events, the men and women receive the same prize money, but it’s the men’s matches that generate the bigger money draws; people are aware of the fact that the men’s game is (slightly) more advanced physically and aesthetically than the women’s. A few years ago, before Martina Hingis was banned for testing positive for cocaine, she played in doubles match in one those “children” events at the U.S. Open. Her partner was Ana Ivanovic, and they were up against Andy Roddick and some amateur goofball pretending to “funny.” Naturally, Roddick was expected to play along and let the girls win, but you could tell the “joke” was starting to wear thin on him. Near the end, with Ivanovic serving with all her might, he just let a return go as he would have in a match against a male opponent, and both Hingis and Ivanovic fell flat on their asses; they were clearly unhappy that Roddick had the bad manners to show them up.

TIME and its gender flunkies might not be aware of this, but people (or at least men) can tell the difference between real and pretend. Men are the biggest consumers of sports, and they are interested in what is the best quality; if newspapers decided to devote half their copy to women’s sports (especially in a slimmed-down section like the Seattle Times’) at the expense of what interested them, the paper would lose a quarter of their print sales in no time. The question is, then, how to get men interested in, say, women’s tennis?

"’Yes, these women are beautiful, but we see lots of cleavage and legs, and it's set to music that is reminiscent of soft-core porn,’ says Nicole LaVoi, associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota. ‘That might be interesting and titillating, but it isn't going to make me turn on Wimbledon.’"

The WTA already knows that it can’t count on the casual female television viewer to watch women’s tennis, so it needs some other strategy. LaVoi claims that there is no evidence that sex sells sports. She is obviously basing that on what she thinks, but then again she isn’t a man. In our break room at work, tennis is not the hottest ticket in town, but the recent Wimbledon women’s semifinal between Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki had a few people riveted to the TV—and it wasn’t because of the intense play, but because Sharapova is OK on the eyes, and because of those short skirts flopping up and down. Sure, there are a few tennis fanatics out there, but the casual viewer needs more to draw him in.

“The WNBA has come under fire for focusing its campaigns on its more attractive players — like Diana Taurasi, who has long, flowing hair and appeared nude on the cover of ESPN magazine last October.” I didn’t get it either, particularly since Taurasi isn’t that good looking (and wasn’t half as revealing as Lauren Jackson in that Australian magazine a few years ago). But reality check time: Last year during the WNBA playoffs and its abysmal ratings, ESPN tried to sell the games on athleticism, because they knew they couldn’t sell it on those ugly baggy shorts; they failed miserably. The fact is that ESPN is losing money on their WNBA contract, and despite their best efforts, ratings have been flat for years. It’s bad enough that the play is such that a boy’s pee-wee league team looks more professional, but it’s just too dull to watch. That’s just the simple fact. It has nothing to do with lesbian bogeywomen”—if it’s tough to watch, you won’t get anyone outside the core fan base to even give a damn.

What seems to anger gender politicians the most is that any imagery of femininity is a “threat” to their asexual vision of themselves and the world. What they don't understand is that sexuality has always been about power, getting men to do things that they wouldn’t normally do (like watch womens tennis); sometimes it has negatively impacted women, but usually it has been used to their advantage. The WTA players involved in the ad campaign seem less offended than the academics and activists--probably because they know that maintaining the fiscal viability of their sport requires such minor "sacrifices."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The hidden cost of law enforcement

Last may, the Maryland Daily Record published an editorial which decried the amount of city money being used to settle police misconduct cases:

“Baltimore taxpayers have paid at least $16.8 million since July 2004 to settle lawsuits involving the city police department. The cases range from garden-variety policy misconduct to a $6 million settlement in the case of Jeffrey Alston, who was paralyzed in the aftermath of a police stop in 1997, to a $2.5 million settlement of an employee bias suit filed by black officers. Just how much is $16.8 million to a cash-strapped city? (a lot?)….But the numbers appear to be well short of the actual cost…The $16.8 million reported by the solicitor’s office does not include the city’s cost of defending those cases, some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees and expenses related to monitoring or compliance. One more thing — the $16.8 million does not include settlements reached this year but still not approved by the Board of Estimates. Those pending settlements total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

We seem to have the same problem in the state of Washington. An Everett police officer, Troy Meade, was recently fired in the aftermath of the shooting death of one Niles Meservey in the parking lot of an Everett bed-and-breakfast; Meade would later be acquitted of second degree murder in the case. Two years after the event, in which Meade was on administrative leave and an internal investigation found his use of lethal force unjustified, the out-going police chief Jim Scharf stated in a letter of termination that "In my opinion, it is inexplicable that you failed to utilize different force options or to simply move further out of the way of Mr. Meservey's vehicle and reassess the situation; instead, you precipitately used deadly force. Your actions were incompatible with the Department's priority of protecting and preserving human life."

According to the Everett Herald, during his two years of what was essentially a paid vacation, Meade received over $183,000 in “earnings,” and this doesn’t including health care and other benefits. And that was just the start of this taxpayer boondoggle; the city was charged $240,000 in legal fees for Meade’s criminal defense, and another half-million for the city’s defense in the wrongful death civil case brought forward by Meservey’s family. The city eventually settled with the family for $500,000. This one paranoid, trigger-happy cop cost the city $1.5 million—money that could have been spent on public programs already short of funds.

This story was hot on the heels of revelations that in a civil case brought by a man who claimed he was held at gunpoint by a rogue cop for an inordinate amount of time, the laughter stopped at the one buck judgment in his favor. Total legal costs to the city could potentially amount to $700,000. And that followed the $1.5 million in damages awarded to the family of John T. Williams; costs in the legal defense of Officer Ian Birk has not been disclosed. And that followed closely the $10 million dollar judgment against King County in the case of a transit deputy crushing the head of an innocent man against a wall in Seattle, causing permanent brain damage and disability (again, legal costs not disclosed). And we haven’t even begun to talk about the massive amount of overtime pay that propels the lowest-ranking deputies and officers into the highest-paid public employees. And to do what? The Baskin-Robbins I’m sitting in while I’m writing this has been the target of early morning break-ins twice in the span of a few months; the establishment has large windows, and is clearly seen off a main street. These crooks obviously didn’t feel any fear of being caught, with a cop or two sleeping-off his overtime. And the other evening at the exact same spot where I was harassed by a Kent police officer on my way to work (which I described about here previously), I heard what could have been a car backfire, except that there was no car in sight. However, there was this instantaneous whizzing sound that passed me some 15 yards to my right. Except for the American Pile-Driving Company being open for the late shift, the area seemed otherwise deserted.

The odd thing about all of this is that for most people, all this money has no real meaning; it’s just some abstraction that is simply debited from some indefinable wellspring that has no connection to the real world. But it is real money that rogue cops are stealing from cash-strapped municipalities. Thanks to police guilds which use blackmail and threats to tie the hands of city councils, communities and the courts to deal with rogue cops (and jurors who are blind to the difference between an individual’s pathology and the “stress” of the job), it is impossible to deal with these cops until the damage has been done. We are given the either/or of turning a blind eye to bad cops or pay the consequences: less money for education, health care, public transit, community services, parks and ultimately jobs.

Why I am not hopping on the women's soccer bandwagon

I’m hardly a fan of soccer, but that is not the reason why I am as disinterested in the women’s World Cup as I am the men’s version. There are some who claim that people all over the country are in a tizzy over the US team’s success, but that is like the claim that the extremist minority who make-up the Tea Party speak for all Americans. The success of the US women’s soccer team—relative to the men’s team—is due to several factors, the most important of which are the fact that it started on a level playing field with the rest of the world; the first women’s World Cup was staged in 1991. More importantly, because there are fewer opportunities for women to play professional sports in this country, there is a much greater pool in which to draw athletes from; the fact that the US is one of the larger countries by population, it shouldn’t be a shock that it can field an outstanding team (relatively speaking).

It’s odd, but if the African immigrants at work who are soccer fans and the odd American watching out of curiosity had not tuned to Brazil-US soccer quarterfinal match on television, I would not have cared who won. But unfortunately the television was tuned to it, right there in front of my unwilling face. Thus I couldn’t help but notice that while the Brazilian team was mixed-race, the US team on the field was all-white. In fact, I checked a website that had a photo and brief bio of each player on the team, and every last one of them was Euro-American. Suddenly, I was interested; I wanted the “US” team—to lose. Why? Because this wasn’t the “US” team—this was the white team envisioned by that shriveled-up, Arian-Nordic dinosaur of a Swedish coach. Pia Sundhage, besides that, also had the “privilege” of disposing of Briana Scurry—and its last non-white player. Scurry wasn’t just some mediocre talent kept on the team as a “token”; she was the starting goalie on those first teams that most “fans” have predictably already forgotten about—you know, that ones that won two Olympic gold medals and the 1999 World Cup? Of course, it was white players like Mia Hamm who got all the attention, and when that 2007 “incident” occurred, most people didn’t even know who Scurry was, except that she was black.

That “incident"--which will forever be the only “memorable” event that I will ever take from women’s soccer--was the Hope Solo prima donna tantrum at the World Cup semifinals. Coach Greg Ryan, for some reason, chose to field Scurry as the starting goalie in the match; maybe it was because Ryan thought he needed Scurry’s experience, or he thought that Solo needed to be taken down a peg because of her self-promoting arrogance. Whatever the reason, Solo’s juvenile self-obsessed wailing and whining on the sideline—perhaps rubbing off on some players who were empathetic to her “plight”—led to lackluster play and a self-fulfilling prophecy of a lopsided defeat, 4-0. Because of the backlash by Solo supporters (since she attended the UW, local sports commentator were particularly submissive), Ryan was forced to resign.

On the other hand, US men’s soccer teams—not as successfully because they started out from behind and draw from a smaller pool of athletes—seem to welcome diversity. It is also my decided impression that regardless of the sport, white women are much more likely to view minorities as “threats” to their swell-headed self-obsession. I noticed in the past that people like former tennis “greats” Chris Everett and Martina Navratilova never miss an opportunity to denigrate the Williams sisters; perhaps they resent the fact that there hasn’t been a white American player to challenge their success and put them in their “place”—no American other than Williams sisters has won a tennis grand slam title since 2002. Many commentators claim that racism doesn’t exist in some sports venues, particularly those in traditionally “white” sports, merely because it isn’t explicitly stated; but this is just a mendacious mechanism for avoiding the truth. When attitudes are instinctive, words are less important than actions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Seattle Times and its gullible reporter's gushing embrace of abusive "Secure Communities" program

The very first post on this blog back in May of last year concerned the abuses of the so-called “Secure Communities” program run by the Department of Homeland Security, through the ICE. Not that it is the only federal/state/local law enforcement “cooperative” that has come under fire. You wouldn’t expect the Seattle Times to catch on to anything like this (unless it has a gender politics angle), but the Weekly ran a detailed investigation on the Phillip Chinn case; Chinn was a student and local anti-war activist whose activities ((mainly meetings and protest events) were apparently the subject of extensive surveillance by the state patrol and local police at the behest of civilian employees working for the military's Force Protection Agency. This surveillance included infiltration by at least one agent-provocateur who fed information to local authorities; according to the ACLU, the illegal activities of the FPA and its law enforcement partners "appear to be far more pervasive than we had thought.” This included an arrest on a false charge of DUI as an excuse to detain Chinn, and despite no evidence that Chinn had alcohol in his system or otherwise had done anything remotely criminal, the local prosecutor refused to drop charges against him until publicity about the illegalities surrounding the arrest became public knowledge.

But it is similar “information sharing” programs like Secure Communities that particularly rankles, and I am compelled to bring the issue back to the surface after encountering a recent story in the Seattle Times with the headline “Illegal-immigrant crime targeted,” followed by a pathetically insular, one-sided story by reporter Amy Harris, who gives an adoring account of the Secure Communities program. This “program” has been sold to the public as targeting violent criminals amongst illegal immigrants, but the reality is that it goes far beyond that. The abuses of Secure Communities are such that cities that have had enough of it and have tried to opt out of the program have found that it is next to impossible to dislodge unwanted federal immigration agents who terrorize whole communities.

After complaints by local law enforcement about the high-handed interference by ICE agents, Illinois governor Pat Quinn recently terminated the entire state’s “memoranda of agreement” with the Secure Communities program. But last month, ICE director John Morton repeated the DHS dictum that Secure Communities was not a “voluntary” program, telling a San Diego public radio station that once “invited” in, the ICE was a permanent "guest." “An individual state can’t come to the federal government and say, 'we don’t want the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to share information or seek to prevent that information sharing.' That is between federal departments.” There are now calls by some in Congress for an investigation of the program, as well as appeals to Barack Obama to terminate the program altogether.

Harris, who is clearly one of those naïve reporters who has a set attitude from a sheltered upbringing far from “the elements” and the “others,” dispensed with objectivity and seems overly enamored with current local law enforcement propaganda and popular prejudice. Not a single Latino was asked his or her opinion concerning the dehumanizing propaganda and intolerant attitudes that is fueling the drive to bring Secure Communities to places where there seems to be “too many” Latinos for whites to take; they just want them to “disappear.” Harris gushes about Latinos being “snagged” as if they were mere animals caught in a steel trap, quoting the Yakima County Sheriff who says people (presumably white residents who see a filthy criminal in every Latino face) are “sick of crime and gang” problems. Nothing is said about the underlying prejudice and discrimination these people face, or the fact that “gangs” are not a first generation immigrant problem—but another “American” problem.

Security Communities may cause a wedge between the Latino community and police, but this is a relatively minor issue. To repeat what I posted last year, and has not changed: The reality is that the Secure Communities “mandate” goes far beyond illegal immigrants who commit “serious” crimes, which it claims is its focus. Secure Communities is in fact a completely unregulated and unaccountable operation. The program, operating in virtual secrecy since 2008, purports to focus on “identifying and removing dangerous criminal aliens” in what is called “Level 1” crimes, like murder, rape and kidnapping; the truth is that legal as well as illegal immigrants are targeted for deportation for even minor crimes. The University of North Carolina, in conjunction with the local ACLU, found that the ICE and local police who cooperate with them do not in fact “prioritize” their activities by “level” of crime, but cast a wide net over the Latino population (i.e. racial profiling in action) in “fishing” operations. Rather than focus on immigrants accused of serious crimes, those with immigration status or traffic violations are treated with equal harshness--probably to "pad" the stats; in fact these “crimes” constitute the vast majority of the 77,000 detentions made through Secure Communities that Harris gullibly quotes in her Times story. This rather strongly suggests that “Secure Communities” is just a cover to intimidate and expel the Latino populations in the various intolerant communities that have signed-up on the program. And many of those detained have been arrested based on information from notoriously inaccurate databases that have been accused of leading to many false identification matches—leading to even U.S. citizens being detained or deported, especially if their English is not “good.”

The ICE’s claim that it is merely running an “information sharing" program is belied by accusations by the ACLU that local police in conjunction with ICE officers have set-up driver’s license “checkpoints” outside of Latino community centers and churches in many locales, which amounts to deliberate racial profiling and harassment. Furthermore, the Secure Communities program is accused of violating the civil rights of the “accused” by limiting their access to attorneys, or to fight criminal charges based on false information. The ICE is also accused, more insidiously, of using the program to expel “derivative” citizens, which one becomes when one of their parents is naturalized, and who may not be aware of their citizenship status when required to show “papers.”

Despite the fact that right-wing hate fanatics like Michelle Malkin scour the net for stories about illegal immigrant crime, illegal immigrants are far more vulnerable to crime, especially in the South, and murder elsewhere, such as the incident in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. A 2005 study by The American Journal of Health noted that the rate of violent crime by Mexican-Americans was “significantly lower than among non-Latino white and black Americans,” suggesting that media propaganda is responsible for a different impression (much as the media fascination with white female victims belies the reality that white females are the demographic least likely to be a victim of a crime). The Southern Poverty Law Center has also noted studies that show that “second- and third-generation immigrants (of all races and ethnicities) are significantly more criminal than their parents, suggesting that U.S. culture somehow eventually produces more, not less, criminality among its citizens.” There is no doubt that this society “glorifies” violence and guns, and adding discrimination and poverty into the mix, why should anyone be surprised what comes out of that?

Instead of context and facts (the “progressive” tradition), what the Seattle Times’ gives its readers is thinly disguised racism, paranoia and propaganda—employing reporters who live in a world of illusion fed by their “superstars-in-their-own-mind” arrogance. If this newspaper—already reduced to essentially two slim “sections”--ever goes completely under, I say good riddance to bad rubbish.