April 2012

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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net


Rush called Georgetown student activist Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "whore" for campaigning for the health service of the Catholic university to provide birth control to students. The man has long since sailed across the consistency line; his vituperation no longer needs to form part of a coherent narrative from day to day or year to year; it doesn't even have to link up to anything in his personal life. In his Wikipedia entry, the "Smoking Gun" website and Salon.com, you can read about his trip to the Dominican Republic in a private jet with four male companions and a bottle of mis-prescribed Viagra. Sounds like a sex tour to me. He has dated women for years on end without marrying them, or before marrying; did he never have sex out of wedlock? Did any of them use birth control before or during marriage? (He has never fathered a child). Would he describe them all as sluts and whores? Perhaps he would.

The Republican attitude towards women, of which Rush is merely a loud, chaotic and careless spokesperson, is very evident: women are coveted, hated property.

Koran burning incident

Six Americans and many Afghans have already died directly as a result of the Koran burning incident.

After a decade at war in Islamic countries, did no-one know any better? Given some of the virulent rhetoric that emerges from even quite highly placed military people, its hard not to worry that someone thought it was fine. The Times, in an article dated March 3, suggests that it was simply the somewhat normal product of a large inattentive bureaucracy.

Given how much the Afghans hate us, even the people oppressed by the Taliban and ostensibly glad to have their own country back, isn't it time to recognize that what George Bush criticized as "nation building" (before attempting it on a massive level) just doesn't work? There is no core of enlightened, educated, moral and democratic people to receive Afghanistan from us, and hold it when we are gone. There is much to be said, sadly, for the remote, decentralized model of warfare: leave; let whoever has the power and brutality to run Afghanistan, do it; if they harbor terrorists who are striking at us, respond.

Olympia Snowe

A moderate Republican, she was one of the calmest, most compassionate, most reasonable people in Congress--so of course she is leaving, as there is no room for people like her in an institution now customized for maximum toxic rhetoric and minimum action.

Super PAC's

Fascinating factoid: The Gingrich campaign hasn't bought any advertising in seven primary states where its Super PAC has spent millions. What I understand from this: why would anyone want to deal with the rules, restrictions and limitations of campaign spending when contributions to Super PAC's are unlimited and may even be made anonymously? Super PAC's and the "Citizens United" decision which set them free to rampage upon the earth, are not simply an important sidelight to campaign finance, but the present and future face of it, the way things will now be done.

Romney's wealth

Mitt is trying to leverage his $200 million net worth as a positive in his campaign-- he is offering to bring his business expertise to the assistance of America. But what exactly does he know how to do? Buy stuff cheaply and sell it expensively? Break things up and sell the pieces? What exactly is it that businessmen are supposed to know about governing a nation?


One of the most dangerous demagogues in America is Virginia Attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli, who routinely uses his office as a club to beat up people on the wrong side of his ideology. The Virginia Supreme Court just ruled he did not have authority to investigate a prominent climate scientist at the state university. Cuccinelli was unable to present a shred of evidence that his target had committed any fraud or other legal violation; his clear intention was to stop legitimate science from being done in the state.


Charles Koch's lawsuit against the Cato Institute, which he co-founded, is amusing and instructive-- perhaps the ethical spectacle of the month. Koch wants to complete the domestication of Cato, adding it to his sled team so to speak, to work closely with his other captive entities towards the destruction of the President and the Democratic party. Cato, the famous libertarian thinktank, is fighting back, claiming that its independence and possibly its tax exempt status will be threatened.

In the 1990's, I wrote two briefing papers for Cato, one on the pervasiveness doctrine and the other on anonymity. Back in those more cheerful, self deluded days, I thought we were all independent thinkers, who could team up where our interests overlapped. I knew I didn't trust libertarians, but thought we could stand shoulder to shoulder to keep the government out of the Internet.

Koch's attack on Cato fits neatly within a different narrative: a version of "Frankenstein" in which the good doctor eventually kills and eats his own hapless creations. Cato was never as independent as it pretended to be; it was easy to find deceptions and rationalizations in its pronouncements, moments of "narrative overstretch" in which the truth had to be denied, or obscured, to fit an ideological procrustean bed. Why, for example, would the truth or falsity of climate science be a libertarian issue in the first place? If your only mission is to argue for the smallest possible government, you could admit the findings of science and then argue that free markets are able to deal with it (or that government cannot, so nothing can be done). Denying the science, as Cato did, clearly showed that Koch's fingers were in the scales from the beginning.

Returning a box

It is difficult to do the right thing sometimes. I live in a four apartment building with no doorman. One day, a box was sitting outside, destined for the apartment next to mine. We put it by their door, it vanished, then was back in the hallway a day later. I left it in the front hallway with a note, "Is this yours?", but no-one claimed it. (This is New York; we don't know our neighbors. I have never even seen the women who live in the next apartment.) So I took it to a UPS office to send it back to the company which had shipped it. The clerk reacted as if I had brought in a live snake: he pointed out the box had been opened, which I had not noticed. He communicated his message by looking at me nastily and triumphantly, and nearly screeching, "You opened it, didn't you!" He said UPS would not accept it for the free return. "If you do send it back, UPS investigators will come to your building!" Finally, I took it to the local post office and paid $10 to ship it back. I am used to the casual, cheerful Amagansett post office; in Astoria, I had to pass the box through a sliding door in a plexiglass window. The postal clerk rejected it: "We don't ship anything without a return address." I wrote "A. Tenant" and my building's address and handed it back to her. So far it has not been returned to us, nor have any investigators showed up.

Blue collar Republicans

I believe blue collar Republicans are dupes: they are being lied to by a party which will never bring them jobs, which is dedicated to making sure its own non-millionaire voters decline into grinding poverty, suffer illness without health care, live in elderly retirement without Social Security. The spectacle of Santorum and Romney--especially Romney, with his $200 million net worth--competing for the blue collar vote in the primaries is precious. Something I want to say to everyone middle class and below who takes a stand with the billionaires: when things go to hell in a handbasket here, and Charles Koch, Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg get into their Gulfstream IV jets to fly to New Zealand, do you think they will save a seat for you? When they vanish into the safe rooms under their houses, will they hold the door open? You should stand with us, because we, the 99%, are the only ones who have your back. The greatest sign I ever saw at Zuccotti: "There is a 99% chance you should be here with us."

International human rights and corporations

The Supreme Court heard the arguments of a case regarding the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law from the early years of the Republic much used since the 1990's for suits for torture and other human rights violations. The classic scenario has been that a foreign torturer is hiding in the U.S.; his former victims come here and file suit. The case before the Supremes, however, concerns Nigerian people suing Shell Oil for allegedly procuring the torture and murder of Nigerian protestors. The questions asked by the justices (calling them that seems like a travesty at times) forecast the result, as they often do: international human rights laws, which were created to apply to states and to individuals, don't apply to corporations. Running this through the neurolinguistic translator, we get a result which is itself a magnificent ethical spectacle, maybe the best of the decade: corporations are people, per the "Citizens United" decision, for the purposes of being able to funnel unlimited money to political campaigns, but are not people for the purpose of being held responsible for torturing and murdering Africans. The Supremes, perhaps envisioning the irony, which they often do not, have called for additional arguments, on the broader constitutionality of the Act. They must have realized they can simply gut the Alien Tort Claims Act, ending American jurisdiction over atrocities committed by anybody abroad, instead of foisting upon us a gross contradiction about corporate personhood. At argument, Justice Alito asked, "What business does a case like that have in the courts of the United States?"

The Supreme Court, which in its best times promotes a diverse, tolerant, compassionate vision of American law consistent with the Founders' goals for our country, has abdicated that moral leadership. More and more, this Court seems to issue, one after another, decisions of the kind my cousin Marty, the personal injury lawyer, used to call "fuck-you's", complete with amoral and vicious rhetoric of a kind we haven't heard since the 1857 "Dred Scott" decision, in which the Court held that black slaves in America had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect".

Killing U.S. citizens

Of course, the idea that companies can kill African people without being held accountable in U.S. courts makes more sense in the context of the ongoing debate about the circumstances under which the U.S. can kill its own citizens. To be clear about this, I am not morally offended that my country took out New Mexico-born Anwar Allaki with a drone. I would rather just regard it as an extraordinary act in wartime which may be a technical foul, and not make a whole body of rules legitimizing it. Unless, next time, in the not too distant future, you want to see drones used to wipe out a carful of (alleged) terrorists on a New Mexico highway. And then, inevitably, used to destroy Aunt Mae and her nieces, whom soneone took for armed heroin smugglers, on a Texas dirt road near the border. This is, after all, extra-judicial killing, in which the person who makes the decision to take the shot is acting as judge, jury and executioner. Mistakes will be made.


Until recently, pirates in the Horn of Africa captured by ships of various navies, including ours, have been released to commit more crimes. This has been officially attributed to lack of jurisdiction, but we obviously have no problem trying Al Qaeda terrorists here for attacks on American citizens overseas, and the cases of pirates who harm American citizens or ships is not different in any legal respect. I could cynically say that such prosecutions might create the wrong precedent in a time when we appear to be about to gut the Alien Tort Claims Act. More likely, in a down economy, nobody, the U.S. included, wants the expense of trying foreign pirates, and then housing them in local jails.

Last week, some pirates were taken to the Seychelles Islands for trial, an experiment I will watch with interest. The existence since Nuremberg of various international criminal tribunals is a hopeful one. Global problems need to be solved at the global level.


The police force of my city is way out of control. The apparent transformation of the white shirts (the brass) into dangerous ideologues, the incredible showing of a bigoted propaganda film financed by the billionaire Adelsons to more than 1000 officers,the patently bigoted "stop and frisk" policies which make black and Latino youths fair game for stops without probable cause, the constant infiltration of peaceful and long established Islamic communities, the nonstop attempts at the entrapment of people including the mentally ill and unstable, has been topped by the revelation that the NYPD has begun spying on Moslem groups throughout the East Coast, far outside its jurisdiction. We had a similarly out of control police force in the 1960's: the secret component was the infamous Red Squad, and the public face of it was the Tactical Patrol Force, which covered its badge numbers with tape and then beat anti-war demonstrators. The "Handschu" federal civil rights litigation of the 1970's resulted in a court order pulling the NYPD back within civil and public control, but that order has been grossly scaled down since 9/11 as we slide towards a true and complete police state.

The costs of law

As I attempt to re-launch the law practice I had twenty five years ago, I am astonished by how expensive law has become--for the consumer, but also for the entry-level lawyer. I need access to a law library. Annual membership fee for someone who has been out of law school as long as I have, to join either of the two New York City organizations that offer law libraries? About $400. Westlaw or Lexis were already ridiculously unaffordable for people like me a quarter century ago.

The New York public library has some law books, but much of what they have is in the stacks, where you have to wait fifteen or twenty minutes each time you request a book. There is a flow involved in legal research, of pulling one case after another, jumping from case to case, that works better on the Internet, or in a huge law library where everything is available on the shelves. That flow gets interrupted if you have to involve a librarian, then wait.

This fits squarely into the 99%/1% narrative: the 1% and their lawyers (who themselves typically are part of the class they serve), have access to law materials instantly and effortlessly, the poor and their lawyers with difficulty.

What is so criminal about this: laws and court decisions are all public records, so to charge that much to get access is ridiculous. Costly private services, Westlaw and Lexis, have a virtual monopoly over public domain material. I don't need these companys' keywords and reference numbers, the value they claim to bring, from a copyright standpoint, as compilers; I want the cases themselves. Public law, public court records, public domain material, should all be available free, on the Internet.

Democracy and capitalism

It has been a fascinating and lifelong education to observe that these two things are not synonymous, that neither is a prerequisite of the other. They have, in fact, different goals, and our existing plight seems to demonstrate (as a mainstream and lifelong capitalist observed recently at the Davos conference), that capitalism is currently inflicting wounds on democracy. At the same time, China's thriving economy demonstrates that capitalism can do just fine without democracy. The ultimate irony: Hong Kong democracy is being tainted by an influx of Chinese crony capitalism. Whoever thought that the infection most feared from the Chinese mainland would be the love of money?


From the Times for March 13: "The banks have largely focused the blame for mistakes on low level employees..." This is rather delightful, an English sentence which is perfectly grammatical but communicates nothing. I am not blaming the paper, but the banks: no leader, no commander, no CEO can legitimately point the finger down the chain of command. Whatever mistakes were made by the people below, were made on your watch, under your supervision, in the corporate culture you created. Mafioso apparently are more loyal to their people than executives. One astonishing aspect of the current mess is that the billionaires, while trying to continue to persuade us they are the right people to run America, have no dignity or courage and will betray anyone.

The Catholic church and SNAP

The Catholic Church, defending itself in abuse cases, has embarked on a new tactic of harassment against a nonprofit organization called SNAP, which supports the victims. The Church lawyers use subpoenas and lengthy depositions, in which the lawyers fire questions about the organization's membership and business methods and anything but the actual case at hand.

I respect Catholics and their religion, but not the administrative hierarchy which claims to be its sole legitimate representative on earth, which increasingly seems to meld aspects of a gang and a cult. If Coca Cola had a history of abuse of young people like the Church's, the company would long ago have been in receivership. The Church commits terrible crimes and uses its ideology and, worse, its temporal power as a shield.

The only thing that worried me a bit, and it doesn't justify the harassment, is that SNAP apparently believes in recovered memories, and there is a lot of scientific evidence now that the bulk of these are fabrications of the mentally ill and the gullible. Since hundreds of priests around the world have been caught abusing children based on eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence having nothing to do with recovered memories, the best way to oppose Church policies on abuse fairly and legitimately is to stick with the cases and facts which are scientifically tenable, not the ones based on fantasy.


The President, who was riding relatively high in the polls a month ago, at a fifty percent approval rating is back down to 41% according to the Times: a nine percent drop in one month. This illustrates the absurdity and insecurity of polling data, which if reported too often, creates an impression of the ultimate confusion and attention deficit of the American people. Polls are created news, and their very existence can, deliberately or inadvertently, skew results. The Framers intended us to elect the best people we can, and then trust them; politicians' hyper-responsiveness to polling data turns them in to weathervanes. Newspapers, which should be reporting real and not invented news--in this case, the paper itself conducts the poll--are contributing to the decline of democracy, where everything, news cycles and actual policy, is driven by hype.

NYPD and paranoia

In 1978, my then girlfriend spent a summer studying Russian in the Soviet Union. She came back with some fascinating stories, of which the most memorable involved an anecdote about Stalin. The Russian student who told it felt safe relating it in a rowboat. In the middle of a lake. And even there he couldn't say "Stalin". Instead he pointed to his own eyebrows, well understood Russian sign language for the bushy eyebrows of the dictator.

People in the Soviet Union then and in many other countries to this day operated on the assumption that they were being listened to all the time, and that anybody around them could be a cop or working for the cops. The revelations over the decades about otherwise reputable people in every walk of life who were informants for the East German secret police, the Stasi, are informative: the novelist or law student next door, the one you liked and trusted, had saved his own skin, or made a little money, or acted on misbegotten ideology, by reporting on you.

We're not quite there yet in the U.S., but we are the closest we have ever been. After some anomalies in my voicemail, particularly messages not showing up in my mailbox until a day after they were left, I asked an attorney who works on electronic civil liberties issues whether it was possible I was being spied on. He said two things: they are more subtle than that, so the spying wouldn't produce any visible glitches; and everyone should assume they are being listened to at least intermittently, now that the Patriot Act has allowed the feds to build listening devices into every network.

I went to Manhattan criminal court to support a guy I met in the holding cell at Police Plaza on the night of the Zuccotti eviction. A professional activist (what I want to be when I grow up), he gets arrested a lot. This time, he was being arraigned for a nonviolent protest against New York's stop and frisk laws. I left the courthouse at 11 to walk uptown to an appointment, paused in Chinatown to inspect a table full of Chinese kitsch objects, and looked up to see a stocky, unsmiling woman taking my picture. She walked away immediately. Tourist? Cop? I think the latter. Tourists tend to smile and talk to you.

An article in last week's Times told stories of Occupy activists who find themselves tripping over the cops everywhere they go, even outside their homes. I have been down to 60 Wall Street a few times to attend Occupy committee meetings listed on their website, or to try. I walked over to groups of people in mid-meeting on a couple of occasions to ask, is this the legal activists commitee? And got a brief headshake without eye contact, not a smile and "No, we're goals and planning." The message: we don't know you, we don't even want to say who we are. When I found the law meeting, I volunteered to help with all kinds of things, gave everyone my card, and have had no follow up contact. At one point, the other three people at the table exchanged email addresses, and one of them shielded the page with his hand so I couldn't see.

The NYPD's big victory over Occupy: It started as an open and accessible movement, which announced protests and other activities in advance on its web site, and was meant to be a leaderless mass movement open to everyone. And now, because anyone around you could be a cop or an informant, everyone is nervous, secretive, hunched over.

A climate aha! moment

There are aha! moments in life, when structures of belief fall away, and you see things plainly. (We all have to be careful, of course, because there are also false aha! moments when people go through the exact same psychological arc, only to end up believing that the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission are in charge and trying to efface them personally.)

As I said in last month's essay on narratives, humans need their comforting stories, but our more fragile narratives can get crushed by events. The most common one in daily life is the spouse or significant other who seemed honest and loving, but turned out to be a liar and cheat. More broadly, people often make similar discoveries that entire networks of people they thought were supportive friends--the people at work, on the sports team, in the PTA--are either working against them or standing by complacently while someone else does. If you've ever been fired from a job, you probably learned which of your work friends were appalled, who was complacent, and which were eager to take over your responsibilities.

A major exercise of the Spectacle since 1995 has been to "expose the metadata", to try to figure out the stories behind the narratives, to detect the motion of the real interests at play in the background. Without falling into paranoia.

Here's one. The planet is warming. Most of us of a certain age have personal evidence of it. I am 57 and when I was a kid in the 1960's, it snowed several times a winter and the snow sometimes stayed on the ground for weeks. This winter we had one day when it snowed, and it melted right away. Where I live in Amagansett, there are more storms and more flooding every year than I remember twenty years ago. Everyone who lives near a glacier knows how radical the changes have been. Go view a glacier from a boat and the guide will tell you what it looked like before. But I have conversed with people my age who have had the same life experience and who resolutely deny any change in the climate.

Island nations have known for fifty years or so that their homes will be underwater some day, and some have negotiated arrangements under which their entire populations will move to other countries when the time comes. There is freak weather everywhere, tornados killing scores and even hundreds in a single night, massive hurricane destruction in places not usually affected and not even near the coast, like the Catskills and Vermont. We have already lost one major American city, New Orleans. Private companies stopped writing flood insurance long ago. A prediction was reported yesterday that almost four million people will lose their coastal homes by 2100. That's the year in which children born now will be 88. Not that far away.

There is a contingent of people arguing loudly and furiously that i. The climate is not really changing. ii. If it is, its not human-caused. iii. Regardless of what's causing it, there is nothing we can do about it.

Who are these people? Charles Koch, Rush Limbaugh, Ken Cuccinelli, the Cato Institute. What do they have in common? They are either billionaires (Koch and Limbaugh) or tools of billionaires. Cuccinelli, the conservative attorney general of Virginia who has higher political aspirations, has tried to create an atmosphere of fear--a Soviet-style environment--in his home state that will make it impossible for scientists to work on climate issues there. Cato, the thinktank co-founded by Koch, has gone far beyond its libertarian brief (big government should stay out of climate issues and let the markets take care of them) to get involved with the underlying science (there are no climate issues).

Here's your aha! moment: there are people who are more concerned with how much money the billionaires can make in a lifetime, than with the fate of the planet we all live on together. People who are so preoccupied with the getting and spending of the moment that they are not concerned how they will look to history, when the worst has happened (actually, the rest of the worst, as it has already started), and we are looking back to a day when we could still have taken some action to ameliorate it.

When your house is destroyed, when you lose everything, when a slimmed down government no longer has a FEMA or is too broke to help you, those of you who bought the billionaire story will at least know that your sacrifice was not meaningless: you took a bullet so that Charles Koch could make additional billions. I hope it will comfort you.

Hate crime at Rutgers

I have very mixed feelings about the conviction of Dharun Ravi for spying on his roommate, Tyler Clementi.

While I find his actions in outing his roommate, who had sex with a man in their room, appalling, the remedy should have been Ravi's public shaming and suspension or expulsion from school. Not every disgusting action should be a crime, and it is not the role of the law to regulate all public morality.

One way to analyze the case is to ask whether we are reverse engineering a remedy, working backwards from the sad result, Clementi's suicide, to the legal charges. Would we be willing to lock Ravi up, send him away to prison, if his unwarranted filming of Clemnti had resulted in anger, embarassment, mutual accusations, but no suicide?

If you hit someone with a bat, it is foreseeable they will be badly injured, but filming someone against their will is not clearly going to compel suicide in most cases. Unless we are willing to criminalize all episodes, no matter how trivial, in which people point webcams at each other, we are dealing with a gross inconsistency, a legal non sequitur; crimes have to be defined behavior committed with bad intent (mens rea), not casual bad behavior that leads to consequences no-one foresaw. In the former case, we have rules of the road that warn us when we are crossing a line; in the latter, only legal grandstanding and public lynching of people who never intended the result.

A Second Amendment murder in Florida

I have argued many times here that guns make certain people want to use them, and daydream about "justifiable" homicide, and even seek out circumstances where they can shoot people. Nothing has inspired more rage than this assertion, more wounded denial; and I have even received one credible death threat as a result of writing about "gun mentality". ("You think guns make people violent? I'm gonna kill you!")

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida, appears to be a forthright example of the phenomenon. George Zimmerman, who delighted in patrolling the white enclave in which he lives with a 9 millimeter handgun, saw Trayvon walking home to his father's house from 7-11, with a bag of Skittles candy. He called 911, was advised not to exit his vehicle, did anyway, pursued Trayvon with his gun, apparently provoked a physical altercation with him, and shot him.

Trayvon is dead, but Zimmerman has not been arrested. He is protected by an extremely broad Florida self defense law, sought and celebrated by the Second Amendment types, which essentially places the burden in this case on the dead victim to prove he did not assault or threaten the shooter. The absurdity and amorality of this is extreme, but fits comfortably within the Second Amendment self defense narrative. I have been saying for years that the obvious subtext is that there is a category of people, apparently an ever expanding one, whom it is permissible to shoot. This apparently includes unarmed black teenagers walking home in white neighborhoods.

The law IS an ass. Point a webcam at someone in New Jersey and the consequences are worse than if you shoot him in to death in Florida.There is no structure of logic or experience which can rationalize those two results.

Lawlessness of billionaires

Have you noticed that when billionaires turn up in the newspaper, it is usually in connection with lawless and chaotic behavior?

Guy Wildenstein is a French billionaire whose institute turned out to have in its vaults artworks looted from other French Jewish families by the Nazis. He is fighting with another wealthy family over the whereabouts of a Monet stolen in a Gestapo raid. Wildenstein has written the definitive monograph on all the Monets in existence, and has in several editions mentioned that one as in a "private collection", possibly his own. But he won't disclose its whereabouts to anyone or answer any questions.

The Nazis saw themselves as being higher life forms on the evolutionary scale and therefore outside conventional morality. So does Guy Wildenstein, so do the Koch Brothers, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg. Money corrupts, and a billion dollars tends to corrupt absolutely.

Violence in Syria

Defectors from the Syrian army are forming armed militias and attacking government forces. I feel sorry the nonviolence didn't work, but after the widespread massacres in Homs, who thinks there is a moral imperative to continue dying unarmed? Nonviolence succeeds when the adversary has a conscience, or the vestiges of one. It has failed in Syria, leaving a choice between armed rebellion and servitude.

Lies about health care

I keep saying it, because its a point so important, yet so disregarded, it bears constant repetition. The Republican argument that people shouldn't be forced to have health coverage, that its like forcing teetotalers to drink or non-cooks to buy microwaves, is misleading nonsense. Everyone who would rather not pay health insurance premiums expects to get treated if they go to the ER with a heart problem or a wound. Everybody. When they fail to pay that bill, the rest of us pay it for them. So anyone who wants to opt out of health insurance is by definition a freeloader on the rest of us--unless he is that amazingly rare individual, and we haven't seern one yet, willing to be turned away from the emergency room when the moment comes.

Science fiction years

I was born in 1954. By the time I was ten, I started reading science fiction; there was a genre which was set in the very near future, some as early as the 1990's. The movie "2001" came out in 1968.

Now its 2012, a year in which many of the science fiction works already had us widely dispersed through the solar system, and mining the asteroids. Yet a black teenager in Florida can still be shot to death in his own neighborhood by a white man acting with impunity, as if it was 1963, and in a schoolyard in France a helmeted man just chased down an eight year old Jewish girl and shot her, as if it were 1942.

Trayvon Martin

I went to a demonstration for Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot down near Orlando. His father addressed the two or three thousand people who assembled in Union Square, and said: "He shot my son for nothing. My son was killed for nothing". And he was right.

I can't stop thinking about it. Its 2017, this kind of shit isn't supposed to happen any more. It fits into the 99%/1% narrative as follows. Some of the 1% are gun manufacturers. Using the Second Amendment as an excuse, they have used their money to poison and corrupt American politics; nobody dares take a stand against them any more, every Democrat no matter how liberal fears a confrontation which will cause NRA money to start paying for attack ads in her district. At every turn, the manufacturers, aided by the naive ideologues they have created and inflamed, push the limits: No background checks at gunshows; extended magazines which enable you to kill ten or fifteen people, without stopping; and now, "Stand Your Ground" laws in any state where they can put them across.

Years ago, I heard a clerk at a Target store gun counter advise a customer: "If you shoot a man in your yard, drag him into your house." Not any more. In Florida, people can take their guns into the street, into bars, and shoot people they claim provoked them. The presumption shifts to the shot person to prove they didn't place the shooter in fear. Of course, if you're dead, that becomes somewhat harder to do.

There are two ways to characterize "Stand Your Ground" laws, and they both are amoral, violent and degraded. Consistent with the history of American racism, of lynchings and shootings in broad daylight, you can say as I did above that such laws create a class of citizens who are permitted to shoot, and those on whom it is always open season. If black Trayvon had shot white George Zimmerman, would the outcomne have been the same?

If your answer is yes, that "Stand Your Ground" is race-neutral, it becomes a legal duel law, in which two can shoot it out and the survivor faces no sanctions. Dueling was outlawed everywhere the century before last. Of course, some number of the shot, like Trayvon, who had only a bag of Skittles and bottle of iced tea, are unarmed, and in their case, its a legal murder law.

Florida is exhibit A to my thesis that guns create a degraded public morality. It occurs to me, maybe its not the guns themselves that do, but the billionaires who manufacture them. After all, guns didn't persuade the Florida legislature to pass a law which permitted George Zimmerman to get out of his car, chase down a teenager who was his neighbor, and kill him; people did.

What I would have said if I spoke at tonight's demo: "Trayvon was MY son too. He was my brother, and the kid next door, and the kid I smiled at yesterday on the subway. Trayvon was a good kid, with hopes and aspirations, and he fell prey to a sociopath whose desire to shoot somebody was endorsed and protected by the laws of Florida. When Trayvon dies, you take a piece of me as well, and that's why I am here, standing my ground, with you."

Anti-health care

The rally the right is holding outside the Supreme Court is called "Keep Your Government Hands Off My Health Care". How about calling it "Keep Your Government Hands Off My Broken, Expensive Health Care I Can't Even Afford"? "Don't Try to Help Me With the Health Care I Don't Even Have"? Or-- mindset of the perfect Republican voter: "I Don't Have Health Care, and Don't Want Anyone Else to Have It".

More on Trayvon

I can't stop thinking about him.

I look at the photo of Trayvon on the flyer I got at the demonstration and I see a normal kid with a friendly face. As a New Yorker, I have a lifetime of radar detecting which people, walking towards me on a deserted Brooklyn street late at night, I should feel nervous about. The number of people you need to be truly frightened of, even in New York City, is tiny. And the criteria for detecting them has nothing to do with race. Violent people have hard or vacant eyes, or evasive eyes; they walk in a swaggering way, with their hands in fists, or they watch you intently as they walk towards you, in a hawk-like way. Virtually all of the black kids in hoodies and sneakers I see every day have good faces, like most of the white kids. I believe that even today too many white people do not have the ability to look beyond skin color, hoodie and sneakers when they see a black teenager.

If George Zimmerman had merely looked at Trayvon Martin with suspicion, that would have been wrong. Calling the police to report him was wrong. Verbally accusing him or insulting him would have been wrong. But Zimmerman did much more than that: he chased Trayvon down and shot him to death. In any state, this should be murder, a murder crying out to be prosecuted by the state.

Imagine a state in which it is not against the law to chase down your unarmed teenage black neighbor and shoot him to death. Florida under various Republican administrations has re-shaped itself into something brutal and primitive.

New NRA mission statement

The NRA has been making sure the tools of murder are widely and easily available to everyone: legal, purchasable with minimal background checks, unrestricted by any one-a-month type laws, fully accessorized with extended magazines allowing you to kill thirty people without reloading. By promoting "Stand Your Ground" laws, NRA has crossed the line and is now rolling back the laws against murder. NRA is promoting a world of constant gunfire, of angry killings, duels and vendettas: Welcome to Murderworld.

"Stand Your Ground" morality

Suppose you wanted to assert a right to do something, but the result would be that ten people would abuse the new privilege you created for every one who asserted it correctly. Would you back off based on compassion and civic duty, or would you regard the breakage as acceptable collateral damage? The "Stand Your Ground" defense is widely used by felons shooting each other in bars, by shooters who kill an unarmed man leaning into the car rather than drive away. And now by George Zimmerman, who chased his teenage neighbor down the street, then shot him. In that light, what's so wrong with the law saying you should retreat if you can? It would have saved Trayvon Martin's life. Or do you believe that Trayvon's death and those of hundreds like him are "the price we pay for liberty"?

Hospital morality

Wyckoff Hospital in Brooklyn, which is on the edge of failure, was dominated and run until recently by a single doctor who paid himself a high six figure salary and drove a Bentley, even as the hospital repeatedly went to various governments for bail out funds. The place was a hotbed of nepotism, with useless relatives of local politicians on the payroll, and one staff doctor who had been a lawyer until he was disbarred and who end-ran the residency program due to the backing of a state senator. Parkway Hospital in Queens, now gone, was the similar corrupt fiefdom of its doctor-owner. In the savage environment of free market health care, hospitals in high risk, high need areas are models of nineteenth century robber baron capitalism.

The American dream

As I stare at the endlessly spinning circle indicating that my HP Mini Netbook is unequal to the task of opening a simple word-processing file, I wonder how a once proud company produced a horrendous piece of crap. I think the answer is symptomatic of what has happened to the country, and (pardon me for a facile parallel) Rome before us: we started to believe our own press, so we no longer needed to be able actually to do anything in order to believe we were exceptional. We live in a country where a hurricane could destroy a major city a few years ago, which then descended into lawless savagery, homelessness and starvation without any significant federal rescue effort, while the president congratulated his useless political appointee: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." We have substituted for actually doing the job, the need only to say we are. There is a kind of progression that occurs in human life, in which a generation performs heroic deeds, feels its muscles, is proud; it then gives birth to succeeding generations which are soft, stupid, fat and un-heroic, yet somehow believe that,lacking any of their qualities, they too are heroes. Eventually, they get their asses kicked by some other group who are newer and tougher, and the cycle begins again.

Republican health care 'reform"

There is an uncritical article in the Times for April 4 about Republican plans for health care reform when the current law is overthrown. Its a patent crock of shit, a successful snow job by Republicans who are relying on the confusion they have sown, and short public memory, to avoid any consequences for leaving us in the present dysfunctional system. After all, if they really wanted reform, why not "fix" the act, instead of suing to get it thrown out in its entirety? And what did they do to repair an already dysfunctional system after defeating the Clinton health care initiative, or the ones before that? Nothing at all; the Republican agenda is to reshape America\as closely as possible to a medieval model, all powerful barons, and dependent serfs.

The Oikos shooter

A student at tiny Oikos College in California killed seven classmates with a legally purchased handgun. There are no homemade or smuggled guns; there don't have to be. Anyone who wants to kill five or thirty five classmates, co-workers, family members or strangers can buy everything he needs at the local gun shop or gun show, including the semiautomatic weapon which fires over and over again at the least touch of the trigger, and the extended magazine so he can commit the maximum number of murders without reloading. The NRA is a murder lobby, making sure the most lethal murder weapons are freely available to the maximum number of killers with the least government supervision; and that is how it will be referred to here, from now on.