Monday, September 29, 2014

Okay, Seriously, I Need a Little Help with Google Analytics

How the hell do I set it up for this Blogger account?  The internal stat counter is buggy.

Give me a heads up on Twitter to @PaulWartenberg or else email p.warten AT gmail.  Do not send spam or Chinese spam or spam spam baked beans and spam.  Please and thank you.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hong Kong Up In Protest, Showing How It's Done

Holy sh-t dudes:

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and pepper spray on pro-democracy protesters on Sunday, after a sit-in that began Friday escalated into demonstrations involving as many as tens of thousands of people over the weekend. Holding signs saying “Disperse or We Fire,” cops threw cans of tear gas into the crows in the Admiralty district near the main government offices. The police struggled at times to contain protesters, failing to keep them from blocking traffic on a six-lane highway. Students and the Occupy Central movement have been leading pro-democracy demonstrations after China announced Hong Kong's 2017 leadership election candidates would have to be screened by a separate committee.

As part of the reunification of China and Hong Kong when Great Britain's lease was up in 1997 was that Hong Kong would retain some political independence:
In accordance with the One Country, Two Systems principle agreed between the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China, the socialist system of People's Republic of China would not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years.

Uh, pardon my American ignorance of math or calendar-reading, but 2014 subtracting 1997 is nowhere near 50 years.

Great.  The Chinese politburo couldn't contain themselves for 50 years, they just had to go messing with Hong Kong in 20.  You'd think the Chinese reputation for Zen-like patience would stick here, but noooooo.

Didn't some of the Tienanmen protesters end up in Hong Kong and stay there even after 1997 (I know a lot fled further to Taiwan and the US just to be certain they were safe)?  For what I know, Hong Kong is one of those places in China where freedom of expression and freedom to think was still taught and encouraged.

It's a good thing the Hong Kong residents grew up with an idea of the necessity of civil protest against some of the more negative things their home nation has done and can do.  None of that blind obedience to authority and their corporate overlords like they teach here in America, right Jefferson County School Board?  Yeah... right.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Be True - And Fact-Based - To Your School

I mentioned once that I took AP American History back in the day.  It was one of the various classes that helped towards earning college credits - studying for the Advanced Placement exams, where if you scored 3 to 5 on the exam(s) you garnered those credits on that topic - while surviving high school.

It's a big deal for any high schooler aiming to get a college degree.  Get a lot of AP credits through a national program, look good to potential universities while doing it, find yourself earning a way to a major institution - in this case William and Mary WILL do, thank you Steely Dan - that can open doors when you hit the job market.

So what happens when a county school board decides to mess with the Advanced Placement program?  When a school board controlled by a Far Right contingent obsessed with re-writing history - of white-washing it - decides to edit the books and the exam materials to remove any history of civil protest and questioning of authority?

You get Jefferson County (Colorado) School Board, where a thousand students marched in protest - I think this counts as irony, teacher - against the school board trying to remove the very concept of protests from the history books (via Digby):
Hundreds of students walked out of classrooms around suburban Denver on Tuesday in protest over a conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority, in a show of civil disobedience that the new standards would aim to downplay...
...Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”
“I don’t think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past,” said Tori Leu, a 17-year-old student who protested at Ralston Valley High School in Arvada.
The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law...”

Any honest American might spot the problem right away: the editing of texts to define what citizenship and patriotism are, the editing of texts to "don't encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."  So who gets to define citizenship?  Who gets to define patriotism?  Who says what encourages or condones civil disorder or disregard of the law?  Hint: the Conservatives (the same Conservatives who'll tell their own gun-toting followers to prepare for secession and Second Amendment remedies) will tell you that only Conservatives should...

The proposal from Julie Williams, part of the board’s conservative majority, has not been voted on and was put on hold last week. She didn’t return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday, but previously told Chalkbeat Colorado, a school news website, that she recognizes there are negative events that are part of U.S. history that need to be taught.
“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place...”
Williams is one of those conservatives who thinks that because Jim Crow is no more that racism is a thing of the past (when it's clearly not), who thinks that we shouldn't consider the darker ramifications of Manifest Destiny, who probably prefers we never even remember things like the Sand Creek Massacre or the Tulsa Riots.
A student demonstrator, Tyrone G. Parks, a senior at Arvada High School, said Tuesday that the nation’s foundation was built on civil protests, “and everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built off of...”

It's heartening to see the students rise up: they understand full well that an ideological re-write of their curriculum can well kill off their hopes of getting into good colleges.  It's also good news that the College Board - the organization overseeing the AP exam system - is telling Jefferson's School Board that if they mess with the AP materials by "censor(ing) essential concepts from an Advanced Placement course, that course can no longer bear the 'AP' designation."  Meaning no accredited university will accept it.

With luck, all this uproar will convince the conservative board members to back down (they've already delayed the vote).  But this is not the end of it.

We are under attack in this nation.  There is a movement among the conservatives to demolish the public education system.  Our schools, which have operated like this for decades if not centuries, are facing massive defunding efforts: the slashing of budgets, the wrecking of programs.  Our schools, once places meant to share a means of teaching our kids now getting revamped into privatized profit machines.  Our schools, which try to teach our children how the world is - our science, our math, our language, our literature, our history - are being forced to push political propaganda and religious nuttery.

This is a call to all Americans, all registered voters this midterm cycle: a lot of us are going to have school board elections and county board elections and state legislature elections and gubernatorial elections.  NOW is the time to look, really look, at the candidates for each office that will have a major impact on our communities and our schools.  NOW is the time to vote out every Far Right wingnut who wants to rewrite our history and shred our studies of fact-based sciences.  NOW is the time to clean out the greedheads trying to push vouchers and charter schools down our throats.

NOW is the time to save our schools.  Before the damage gets worse, before we lose our public schools to privatized money-grubbers who'll chew up all our taxpayer dollars while under-educating our kids into idiocy.  Before our kids get taught in biology that Jesus walked with dinosaurs, that the Earth is still flat and the center of the universe, and that it's all just 6,000 years old despite the record of human history going back further.

Time to get politics, greed, and fallacy out of our schools.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hark! A Ranking of U2 Albums!

The recent release of U2's latest Songs of Innocence had been a quick topic upon the Intertubes a few weeks back.  A lot of "what the hell" mostly due to how it came out - Apple paid the band $100 million to set up 500 million free downloads that automatically loaded onto people's iTunes accounts (even when they didn't want it) - and a lot of "does anybody even listen to U2 anymore" blowback.

Well, as a U2 fan since the days of War, I wasn't angry about the forced free download so those issues didn't bother me as much.  My biggest concern was "was the new album any good?"

Along with my fellow U2 fans in the world - okay, the Horde of the Lost Battalion - there came a quick Facebook discussion which quickly faded because other issues - and the homework assignment of reading The New Jim Crow - had to be addressed.  But for meself, well hey, this is Serious Business being a U2 fan.  So I had to rank the new album among the others.  As a result, I had to go back and rank all of them (the official ones and not the EPs or Greatest Hits).

As such, it's taken me awhile - and a couple of nights re-listening to half the albums to confirm my bias - to bring to you this list of relevant "Yes U2 Is Still a Band Worth Listening To" albums.  Ranked by weakest (oh dear God, Pop) to best (no-brainer JOSHUA TREE, DUH!)... with Songs of Innocence stuck in the middle of a ranking it can't get out of.  Yeah, I went there.

Ranking U2 Albums - Weak to Epic

Title: Pop
Reasons: Whatever self-indulgences cursed the band with their first big misfire Rattle and Hum came back with a vengeance on this atrocity. Delving ever further into their techno phase starting under Achtung Baby and continued over from Zooropa, Pop is exactly what it says on the box: songs with the “pop” flavor of European dance music, holdovers from the disco era of the late 70s. Having a rock band go disco is not only disorienting, it's horrifying. I honestly cannot recall a single song off this album other than the opening tidbits from “Discotheque”. It's telling that when the band released their Greatest Hits album covering this era, they had every song off Pop remixed as though the original released tunes were bad. Well, they were.
Epic Song(s): None
Great Song(s): Discotheque, Gone (the remixed version off the Hits album)
Good Song(s): Last Night On Earth

Title: October
Reasons: Sophomore albums rarely do well, for several reasons: they're rushed out to capitalize on the band's fame, it's relying on weak songs culled from the debut album, the band is trying to repeat the same songs that were successful on the first album, but comes across as stale, etc. This one's no exception, falling under the “band seems repeating themselves” problem in terms of the music. Lyrics-wise, the album goes deep into the band's Christian background, essentially the most overt religious album they'll ever make (other songs will go into faith well up to now, but not as blatant). There's still a couple good songs here – I have a personal liking for “Tomorrow” – but the album as a whole isn't required for any collection or casual listener.
Epic Song(s): Gloria
Great Song(s): Tomorrow, October
Good Song(s): I Fall Down, Rejoice, Fire

Title: How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Reasons: Admit it, you can't get that opening bit from “Vertigo” out – UNOS – of your head. DOS And yeah, I just put it – TRES – there on you like the evil earworm that it is. CATORCE! Bwhaha. While it's anchored by arguably the hardest-rocking song the band ever made, the rest of the album comes across as... disposable. You can live without having heard any of the other songs off this album, and probably will get into arguments with even hardcore fans about which ones are Great or merely Good. I had to re-listen to this album just to get a refresher on what's on here.
Epic Song(s): Vertigo, City of Blinding Lights
Great Song(s): Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, All Because of You
Good Song(s): Miracle Drug, A Man And A Woman, Yahweh

Title: Zooropa
Reasons: This got a hate-on pretty early in its existence, partly because it carried over the techno stuff from its great predecessor Achtung Baby but also because it foreshadowed some of the overindulgence that would kill the next album Pop. It didn't help that even the great songs on this album had an overproduced, throw-everything-at-the-wall feel to them (because the album ended up being rushed out the studio). Thing is, in hindsight and re-listening, this album isn't that bad. There's some great songs on here – “Lemon” in particular is very underrated – that can mesh well with the great songs from other U2 eras. I'd love to get a remixed “Zooropa” song that takes out that overlong instrumental bit in the opening (what worked great with “Where the Streets...” didn't work great here) and compresses into a more coherent mood-setter.
Epic Song(s): Lemon, First Time
Great Song(s): Stay (Faraway So Close), Dirty Day
Good Song(s): Zooropa, Numb, The Wanderer (with Johnny Cash)

Title: Rattle and Hum
Reasons: The first real Stumble and Miscue the band had. Pumped up by Joshua Tree and continuing their obsessions with American politics and culture, they jumped into this project looking to mingle live music with studio recordings in an attempt to capture the Joshua Tree roller coaster ride. Instead they created a muddled mess: the movie that came with this album did little as advertised, the live songs didn't jell with the studio songs, and the studio songs came across as the band trying to pat themselves on the backs for being so earnest. Yes, there are some decent songs on here, some of them must-haves, but I'm of the opinion they should have separated this into a studio album and a live album, that the live stuff should have been original tunes instead of covers, and that they should have done a better job with the studio stuff.
Epic Song(s): Desire, Bullet the Blue Sky, All I Want Is You
Great Song(s): All Along the Watchtower, Silver and Gold, When Love Comes To Town
Good Song(s): Heartland, God Part II

Title: Songs of Innocence
Reasons: The yelling and screaming over this album has more to do with how it was released – via a promotional binge by Apple, where they had iTunes automatically upload it for free (well, Apple paid $100 million for it) to 500 million accounts whether they wanted it or not – than what's actually on the album. Aside from a terrible cover photo (very understated but bleh), what else was there to hate about this? Probably because at first listen, and even second listen, there's no automatic hit here: no “Vertigo” or “Desire” to anchor the album. There's an attempt to make “The Miracle” (the Ramones tribute song) that hit, but seems forced. “Iris” and “Volcano” are more sincere songs deserving hit status, while “Raised By Wolves” can become a long-term classic. This ends up neither a great album nor the disaster the haters are crowing about.
Epic Song(s): Volcano, Raised By Wolves
Great Song(s): The Miracle (of Joey Ramone), Iris (Hold Me Close), This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
Good Song(s): Every Breaking Wave, Song for Someone

Title: No Line On the Horizon
Reasons: Of the albums in the U2 roster, this is the one that comes closest to having a dark side, an anger to it not heard since War. But where War had a hopeful, We Shall Overcome protest vibe to it, No Line has a more jaded We're Stuck In Purgatory feel, making it Darkest Album. On the bright side it gives us some of the hard-rocking songs I tend to enjoy, but on the other hand it makes it hard to break out for repeat listens, and after awhile some of these songs like “Get On Your Boots” lose their appeal. Still, it's turning out to be a better album out of their most recent works. It'd be ranked higher if it had a more endearing rock song like “Beautiful Day” or “Vertigo” to it.
Epic Song(s): Magnificent, I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Great Song(s): No Line On the Horizon, Get On Your Boots, Breathe
Good Song(s): Unknown Caller

Title: Under a Blood Red Sky
Reasons: Coming off the success of the War tour and off the insanely popular Red Rocks live concert looped endlessly on MTV, this presents the strengths of U2 as a live band like few other albums (and I'm surprised they don't release the exclusive live albums they've issued for the premium fanbase go to broader audiences). If this album has problems, it's due to the fact it's a hodge-podge of concerts across the whole tour instead of the epic Red Rocks performance: as though the songs from that one show had problems that the other recorded performances improved upon. I'd love to see a full album from that one show released some day...
Epic Song(s): Electric Co., 40
Great Song(s): Gloria, I Will Follow, Party Girl, Sunday Bloody Sunday
Good Song(s): New Year's Day

Title: Boy
Reasons: As first albums go this had enough good songs to get off on a great footing with audiences. Moody as all hell, thematically looking at the hazy yearnings of troubled youth, but impressive with Edge's haunting guitar work that would be a signature style well up into Achtung Baby. If this album looks higher-ranking than the other albums that have more Epic/Great songs, it's because the particular songs here are better, and this album (as the debut work) has more importance.
Epic Song(s): I Will Follow, A Day Without Me
Great Song(s): Twilight, Out of Control, Electric Co.,
Good Song(s): An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart, Ocean

Title: Unforgettable Fire
Reasons: After War, the band needed an album of hits to get a Number One song on the books. The result was this: using a sound that pulled away from the punk rawness of the first three albums but trying to keep that punk sentiment in the lyrics to generate crossover appeal. It ends up being a weaker album than War, but with at least one real epic must-hear song in “Pride”. It also has a set of songs that have a softer sound in the studio but which did so much better when done live. I have “Wire” listed as an epic song but it's noticeably one of their least-known songs from this album, kinda deserves more love in the world all I'm saying.
Epic Song(s): Sort of Homecoming, Pride (In the Name of Love), Wire
Great Song(s): Unforgettable Fire, Bad (the Live version off Wide Awake is SO MUCH BETTER), Indian Summer Sky
Good Song(s): MLK

Title: All That You Can't Leave Behind
Reasons: I remember some reviewer saying “This is U2's Greatest Hits album of fresh stuff.” Meaning it came across as a hodge-podge of all the previous stuff – the punk rock phase (“Beautiful Day”), the blues ethereal phase (“Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of”), the techno-industrial phase (“Elevation”), the Euro-Pop nightmare (“Kite”) – but with new tunes. Kinda what the album title implies, this was all of the baggage the band brought with them and needed to get out of their system before moving on. It also became known as their “third Great Album,” something I nitpick against but would accept in casual conversation. It does have a couple of epic songs to it, and great songs that lift it well above the questionable / disastrous efforts of the 1990s, but it's not a must-have album like the top three I got listed.
This was also one of the albums we – and I mean we by the American nation – listened to in tears and rage after the attacks on September 11. It'd been out for all of 2001 by then, but it had songs on there we needed to listen to, songs that echoed about what happened then and haunt us still. Dear God, I can't listen to “New York” without bursting into tears even now... damn them, U2 had a 9/11 song before 9/11 even happened...
Epic Song(s): Beautiful Day, Elevation, Walk On
Great Song(s): New York
Good Song(s): Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, In a Little While, When I Look At the World

Title: War
Reasons: I'm stunned that this one keeps getting overlooked in the Great Album discussion that has All That, Achtung Baby, and Joshua Tree. It was this album that got U2 from small punk band to major airplay on radio stations across the US, that got them on the map (which also provided the basis for their well-received US tour in 1983). Not only does it have a couple of epic songs that keep getting airplay to this day – “New Year's Day” in particular – but it has a lot of great songs that seem to fly under people's radar. It might be due to this being their last true punk album of the early years, with a lot of rawness to the songs. But this also includes one of my personal favorites, “Drowning Man”. If you gotta listen to Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, you gotta listen to this one too.
Epic Song(s): Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day
Great Song(s): Like a Song, Drowning Man, Two Hearts Beat As One, Surrender, 40
Good Song(s): Seconds, Red Light

Title: Achtung Baby
Reasons: This one came out at the end of the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall gone, the US flattening Iraq in the desert, and the Soviet Union primed to collapse. Where all the punk earnestness had been burned out by Joshua Tree, and the obsession with Americana crushed by the flat Rattle and Hum, there was now this jaded “what's next” mindset that was settling in for the 1990s. Into this, U2 came out with a new sound more European/techno than American Rock... and proved they were capable of making more than one great album, putting them in the rarefied air of the great acts like the Beatles. Topped off by arguably the greatest song they ever made – “One,” which itself happened on the eve the band nearly broke up – alongside other hits like “Mysterious Ways” and “The Fly.” Christ, is this album more than 20 years old? It still seems fresher than that.
Epic Song(s): One, Until the End of the World, Mysterious Ways
Great Song(s): Even Better Than the Real Thing, Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, The Fly, Ultraviolet
Good Song(s): Zoo Station, Tryin to Throw Your Arms Around the World

Title: Joshua Tree
Reasons: Can I explain to you what it sounded like when I got the vinyl album (CD was still new and very expensive) and put needle to disc on the first song “Where the Streets Have No Name”? Can I explain what it sounded like when that ethereal opening instrumental poured out of the speakers, an approaching wave of sound that echoed like sunrise into the room? And that was the opening song blowing my mind. God. It sounded even better when I finally got the CD version. This is the album that tops everyone's list, the one even U2 haters would admit having in their collection. If there's a weak song on this album, it's probably either “Red Hill Mining Town” or “Trip Through Your Wires”, maybe “One Tree Hill” depending on who's answering. Every other song is in the Great Song category at the very least however people argue which one's better than the others.
This is U2's Revolver, their Bringing It All Back Home, their Born To Run.
Epic Song(s): Where the Streets Have No Name, With Or Without You, Bullet the Blue Sky, Running to Stand Still, In God's Country, Exit
Great Song(s): Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Red Hill Mining Town, One Tree Hill, Mothers of the Disappeared
Good Song(s): Trip Through Your Wires

I wanna see comments.  It can't be that hard to login and leave one... if not, then tweet me at @PaulWartenberg.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

There Is No Accountability For Being Wrong

I have to admit it was the headline that grabbed me.

Washington Is a Cesspool of Faux-Experts Who Do Bad Research.

As a librarian, this kinda pisses me off (per Conor, who's standing on the sidelines chewing the popcorn):

Drawing on nine years in the nation's capitol, Klein acknowledges one class of obstacles. "Washington is a cesspool of faux-experts who do bad research (or no research)," he explained, "but retain their standing by dint of affiliations, connections, or charisma." Sweet validation! I've often suspected that official Washington is populated by enough disingenuous, misinformation-spreading hucksters to fill an underground container of organic waste. No one has better standing to render this judgment than Klein, whose earnest, tireless embrace of deep-in-the-weeds wonkery is unsurpassed in his generation. He wouldn't assert a whole cesspool of intellectual waste product without having seen plenty of specific examples...

They're basically talking about the same set of experts who circle about the DC Beltway getting on the talk shows and getting into the think tank meetings.  They're the same idiots fear-mongering about foreign policy woes and the threats of inflation and wage increases would have against our austerity measures.  Klein and Conor are talking about the same idiots who get proven wrong - constantly, hi there Mr. Kristol - and yet even with a clear track record of failure keep getting invited back by the power elites and the media chains to sell even more faulty intel and questionable opinions.

Paul Krugman - Nobel Prize economist and someone who tends to do the research we librarians like - has been railing against the same faux-experts in the economic circles who keep obsessing over an inflationary threat that never comes: "The predicted surge in inflation has never arrived, but despite being wrong year after year, hardly any of the critics have admitted being wrong, or even changed their tune."

While Krugman worries about the effects that collective ignorance has on our economic recovery (or lack thereof), the thing he hints at but never openly states in that article is how those false predictors are allowed to keep shilling their bad advice. It's because those bad advisors have been in the Inner Circle of power in DC, and once you've been there your advice is always welcome, whether it's factual or not.

There is no accountability for being wrong.  The First Amendment as currently interpreted does not require fact-checkers and enforcement of sticking to the facts.  Whatever Fairness Doctrine we had as oversight for our media gave way to Anything Goes As Long As It's Not Libel (and even then libel is horribly under-enforced).  Journalism as a profession does not require much in the way of certification outside of a bachelors degree and even then it's not a requirement to get hired - just look at Sean Hannity, he doesn't even have a college degree in anything - and there's no association or bar or board of authority to govern how journalists or media outlets can behave.

Your plumber is better vetted than your TV news host.  And if your plumber does something wrong, he/she can lose his/her license.  If your TV news host does something wrong, he/she gets a freaking book deal.  If your TV news host keeps inviting a know-nothing or naysayer talking head who keeps getting the facts spectacularly wrong, that news host will get a contract extension because "it's good for ratings!"  /headdesk

As Raptavio notes on his Daily Kos blog:
With any semblance of real consequence for being so wrong (even willfully wrong) so consistently, there's little incentive for media outlets to pursue accuracy or integrity in their journalism -- and with the phenomenon of market share going to news outlets who present stories and analysis that reflect their audience's biases, this gives the media strong pecuniary disincentives to promote the values of fact-based reporting and instead to pander, irrespective of whether that pandering is grounded in reality.

Dear Beltway Media: stop interviewing (k)no(w)-nothing Senators and billionaire campaign blowhards, and start interviewing librarians and people who are, you know, ACTUAL EXPERTS on the topics being discussed.  You're not doing this nation any favors in your pursuit for ratings over BS.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Do Scandals Get Worse

The thing that always surprises me is how a bad story - someone being violent, someone being inept, someone being greedy - goes from minor league to nuclear catastrophe within a heartbeat of the story getting out.

It's not even when a revelation about a minor crime turns into an expose of a major conspiracy, like Watergate.  It's just in any situation where there's a powerful person or an organization suddenly confronted with a problem he/she/they just doesn't know how to handle it, and then BOOM the entire structure of that person's powerbase implodes or that organization's impressive administrative order collapses.

I'm bringing this up in the wake of the NFL's (and commissioner Goodell's) Very Bad PR Week of mishandling the Ray Rice incident.  What went from a horrifying interpersonal assault in an Atlantic City casino back in February - that could have been calmly handled in the courts and through massive amounts of counseling - instead degraded into a months-long argument over how poorly the NFL handles domestic violence cases overall (in short: not well).

When Goodell handed down a mere (!) two-game suspension on Rice in July, it opened up the arguments about how tone-deaf the sports league was towards how domestic violence literally destroys women.  That the punishment for assaulting a women was less than a punishment doled out to a player caught with marijuana in his possession or his biosystem (and while pot is illegal, so is assault: and you can forge a strong argument that assault is a more serious crime than pot).  You could see in real-time the scrambling and back-pedaling that the NFL Front Office went through looking to come up with a stronger punishment code...

And then this past Monday just as Week One of the regular season kicked in, the media got ahold of the full video of what Ray Rice really did to his fiancee-now-wife Janay.

By that afternoon Ray Rice had been kicked off his Ravens team and the NFL had banned him indefinitely (although he could always get re-instated).

But this was getting worse and not better for the NFL and Goodell.  Because it begged the question: how the hell could a powerful organization like the NFL - an organization known to have its own army of investigators, and had months to get it - fail to see this video?

Each explanation - each excuse - that Goodell tried to offer came up more hopeless and inept and ill-advised than any of the earlier ones.  Reports kept cropping up that the NFL did get a copy of the video, that at least one executive did see the video, that all the league had to do was ask the casino for it and not the police or prosecutors' offices.  It wasn't helping that other players in the league facing the same legal issues as Rice - Greg Hardy, Ray MacDonald are two - are still playing without suspension... even though Hardy especially has been convicted in court of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

The hypocrisy.  The sloppiness.  The willful ignorance of a powerful, money-driven organization.

How could the NFL - an organization that can successfully bully communities into building multi-billion-dollar jeweled stadiums for them even while generating profits from massive TV and marketing deals - be so clumsy, stupid and tone-deaf now over something like this?

Because of one simple, universal constant that happens to those in power: they lose any perspective about things like accountability and honesty.

It's not so much that power corrupts, it's that power puts people on a different level of authority and responsibility.  It's at a level where things like accountability - where you answer to a higher power than yourself - fade away, because you no longer have as many bosses or overseers watching your mistakes and correcting what you did wrong (either through training or dismissal).

That lack of accountability in high places creates a void of sorts: it creates an environment where the people in power believe themselves infallible, untouchable.  All because they rose to a level of prominence that makes them seemingly superior to all other mere mortals.

That's what happened, is happening here.  Goodell and the NFL - the owners, the players' union, the networks and corporations co-thriving with it all - view themselves akin to Gods On Earth: rich and powerful men (it's mostly men) who make life-and-death decisions about a money-generating sport/entertainment that enough people can't look away from.  Why should their judgment be questioned or their values argued?  Why are we blowing something like this out of proportion?  Don't we know who they are?

It's the same in politics and their media bubble, it's the same in any church of size and power, it's the same in any organization with money in its coffers and power to its name.  They simply can't comprehend why we'd raise a fuss over something they think they've already solved.

So they do the next step in the process of self-immolation.  The person/organization of power begins to lie about what they did.  He/She/They begin to claim "oh well we did X so therefore we're blameless", or "well it was someone else's fault".  They make up a half-truth story that slides into flat-out lying as the need to shift the blame elsewhere grows.

This is from the knee-jerk reaction: the self-defense.  The refusal to admit wrong-doing as that somehow looks worse than the growing web of lies to cover up the earlier mistake(s).  The person of power, the organization of power dare not consider the slight possibility of "OOPS that's on me," because such sloppiness and failure does not belong in "my" world.

And then those in power wonder why they fall.  They're compounding earlier mistakes with fresh ones.  Because lying at that level of responsibility and power is reckless: because there's bound to be someone out there with the evidence to prove you are lying.  Because the more you try to cover it up, the more people and resources you are dragging into the mess: people who may not want to lie to cover your ass; resources that may not fit the gaping holes in your faltering stories.

That's why scandals get worse.  The people in power refuse to hold themselves accountable and refuse to make genuine efforts to fix the problems that arise.  They'd rather lie, blame someone else, and let the problem fade away.

What's sad is why those in power already think that way: because that's how they acted on their way up the chain of command to the high seat they now hold... because they made all that money and gained all that influence through lying and blaming others in the first place.  Because there's a broken system of accountability in place already: they're merely profiting from the status quo.

We are as a nation and as a culture in dire need of reform.  Of bringing accountability and truth-telling back, of ending the fraud and spiritual wickedness in high places.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Anniversary: Sadness Follows Thirteen Years Later

September 11 again.

Last year, I was worried about how the world had remained a bloody, violent place since 2001 as the Syrian Civil War was well into its third year.  It's now in its fourth, and due to the extremist group ISIL it's bled over back into neighboring Iraq which still hasn't recovered from the ill-planned Bush/Cheney occupation.

Last night Obama gave a speech outlining how we were committing airstrikes against the Islamist State psychopaths.  We are remaking military commitments to a nation we tried to exit back in 2011, mostly because we as a nation failed to leave Iraq in better shape than when we invaded it in 2003.  Mostly because we dove head-first into a Middle East quagmire out of anger and blind rage.

We had no reason to invade Iraq in response to what Bin Laden did to us on 9/11.  The reasons were fabricated by a Bush/Cheney administration that wanted to invade Iraq for other objectives (finishing off Saddam, placating our allies in the region who didn't like having a dictator for a neighbor, seizing all that oil and natural resources).  We had no plan for what to do with nation-building.  Well, there was a plan: remove Saddam and his ilk, put in pet Chalabi on the throne, sign up all the oil rights, exit Iraq.  When it happened that nobody in Iraq wanted Chalabi and he wasn't the puppy Cheney thought he was, it turned out we had no Plan B.

Because with the Middle East there IS no Plan B.  Just an ongoing, 5000-year cycle of violence and madness that will only end when everybody's dead.

And we are all stuck.  The innocent people in the Middle East trapped between warring factions.  Other nations tied to the region through all that damn oil.  A United States that's morally and politically obligated to keep dropping itself into that quagmire because we've been breaking things there since World War II and we're stuck paying the bills for the next century.

We're bombing away in Iraq today.  Because the Towers fell thirteen years ago.  We have no idea when we can stop bombing.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Failure of Us All When It Comes to Angry Guys

There is a lot of rage to go around.

There is rage in the heart of Ray Rice, which led him back in February to punch his then-fiancee Janay Palmer so hard that he knocked her unconscious.

There is no other way to describe it.  When he slams that fist into her face, driving her head into the nearby elevator handrail.  Letting her lie there, unmoving, while you can see on the video that Ray is still talking at her.  Look at that body language.  He is not asking if she is alright.  He is taunting her.  The act of a bully, laying the smack-down on his victim.  The body language of an Angry Guy venting his hate.

We are, as fans and as a nation, still raging at those in power who ignored the evidence, tried to play down the horror, who lied at some point during this scandal, who tried to get back to doing what they want to do (sell us a product to make sh-tloads of money).  Much like Keith Olbermann, I too want to see every person involved in this poor cover-up - all the way up to NFL Commissioner Goodell - either reprimanded or fired for trying to hush up yet another violent attack by a player on a woman.

Ray Rice is not the first player to mistreat a woman: there have been so many (hi, Ben "Alleged Sexual Assaults" Roethlisburger, hi Rae Carruth!) through the years that we seem to equate sexual assaults and misconduct as part of the package deal with school and pro athletes.  Which isn't entirely true, as most players - of any sport - don't go this far attacking women or other people.

But it's viewed as part of the culture: the entitlement, the perks of being famous and athletic and physically fit, the perks of the big contracts and the glamour and the media attention.  It's also viewed as part of the nature of sport itself: a level of physical competition that would explain away the quick reaction of a guy in a heated argument to go with fists first into any conflict.

Except that we live in a world where it's not just athletes beating up - and killing - women.  There are reports every day of at least one domestic violence incident involving men who are not football players but businessmen, teachers, bus drivers, architects, blue-collar repairmen... even judges.  And while everyone's burning Ray Rice's jersey right about now, nobody is calling for that Alabama judge Mark Fuller to resign or get disbarred as a response to his anger-driven violence upon his wife.

We live in a global world of violent patriarchy: culture after culture after culture where women are abused, enslaved, treated like cattle, murdered.  And despite all of the differences between each culture - between Asia to Europe to Africa to North America to South America - there remains the same base reason.

The men inflicting all this rape and pain and horror are driven by anger.  Frustrated, violent, lashing out.  It doesn't matter if the man lashes out with a whip, with a machete, with a gun, with his own fists.  The power and impulse driving each act of violence is the same.  Anger.  That the targets are mostly women tend to be due to how some of our cultures devalue women, viewing them as trophies or property rather than people.  But the base cause of anger is always there.

We may want accountability from the people in power who failed Janay that February and are failing her now (if she's defending her now-husband Ray, it's for the same reasons every battered wife will give: she's both terrified of how he'll react if she says otherwise, and she's somehow convinced he's getting better...).  But we should also be demanding action from those same people in power.  We should be demanding it among ourselves.

We have got to do something about culling back the Angry Guys of our world.  We have got to cure this Angry Guy Syndrome of violence that threatens us all.

Friday, September 05, 2014

It's Schadenfreude Time: Crooks In Virginia Edition

Yesterday's post was about a court ruling that angered me: not the ruling itself, but the bastards - BP Corporation - being held to account for their reckless greed and destruction.

There was another ruling that day that amused me: because it was ex-Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell's jury finding him and his wife guilty on various counts of bribery, corruption, and sheer arrogance.

So now I'm getting around to the schadenfreude portion of this blog.  This is the part of the malicious enjoyment where I lean my head back and guffaw.  A deep, throaty, almost maniacal laugh.  Kinda goes like this:


McDonnell is... was... one of those defendants where the sympathy train left the station years ago.  An up-and-coming Republican pol from Virginia, with enough charisma to swoon a room full of fund-raisers and a background catering to the social conservative platform of "family values" (aka Full-Me(n)tal Patriarchy, Pro-Fetus agenda).  He lucked into the national stage as a successful governor of a swing state, able to retain his Far Right credentials yet position himself in public as the "sane and normal" one when compared to his fellow Virginian wingnuts (Hi, Cuccinelli!).  This was a guy getting vetted for being Veep in 2012.  This was a guy who could have parlayed his position into a front-runner for (what is turning out to be wide-open for Republicans) the Presidential ticket in 2016.

This was a guy who couldn't figure out how to keep his corruption on the down-low and in the back rooms.  I mean, corruption is a bad thing no matter which politician is committing it, but there's something to be said about being savvy enough to keep it off the radar...

The feds were able to catch McDonnell's family hanging around with a deep-pocket fund-raising buddy (Jonnie Williams), not only taking money and gifts from him but also turning around and avidly promoting their buddy's diet supplement company.  While Quid Pro Quo is painfully rampant in modern politics, most other politicians tend to be a little more subtle about their deals.

The trial just finished was a soap opera drama worthy of a Lifetime Channel miniseries.  Rather than present a unified defense, Bob and his wife Maureen decided on a finger-pointing approach of accusing each other of being manipulated by a sweet-talking businessman who took advantage of a crumbling, loveless marriage.  Bob especially went with a "crazy wife" defense that essentially threw Maureen under the bus (figuratively, but if someone brought a bus to the front of the courthouse he well could have tried it literally).  For a politician who once stood on the virtue of a husband "defending and providing for his family," this was pretty hypocritical.  It was also pretty tone-deaf.

But the signs were there early: when first charged, McDonnell was offered a plea deal on just one felony charge (meaning minimal jail-time) that would have included all charges on his wife getting dropped (it's a standard practice by prosecutors to pile on charges to make sure a deal can get enforced made).  Even then, McDonnell said no to the deal, figuring he was better off winning over a jury and walking away clean.

Turns out the prosecutors were able to win more than one felony conviction after all.  Hindsight can be a pain, right Gov?


As Jim Newell at Salon noted, How could McDonnell be so stupid?:
...In modern politics, corruption charges are usually more tediously complex: Money was wired here and then laundered via a pass-through, which made its way through another pass-through and was distributed through a foundation before ending up at a nonprofit designed to help such and such’s interests with a client trying to change regulations in foreign markets, or whatever. Not in this case. The prosecution just had to show the jury images of the idiot governor showing off his flashy watch that was given to him by the rich businessman for whom he did favors in return. How much simpler could this get? It’s only a degree of reality or two away from an old-timey political cartoon of a tuxedoed plutocrat, smoking a cigar, handing over a big bag marked “$$$,” to a crooked politician slapping his back and cackling.
God, the stupidity...
...Because the defense — the now infamous defense — that they took in court reeked of desperation all the way through. If you’re willing to testify for days about the stunning levels of dysfunction in your marriage, as the best hope for your exoneration, doesn’t that suggest that you may not have the strongest case? Doesn’t that suggest that perhaps you would’ve been better taking a plea deal? It didn’t even cohere...
I would argue it wasn't stupidity.  It was arrogance.  Hubris, the Greek word for Pride: Pride, the highest of the seven deadly Christian sins.  You'd think a rock-solid self-promoting Christian like McDonnell would have learned about the price of Pride in Sunday schools.  That it leads to one hell of a fall.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Damn BP and Damn the Corporate Criminals

There were a couple of major court rulings getting handed down today, but the one I want to jump to first is the one that makes me angriest and affects me more directly (as I live in one of the affected states).  Today a judge issued a ruling over who bears the most blame for the disastrous explosion and subsequent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010:
...BP PLC already has agreed to pay billions of dollars in criminal fines and compensation to people and businesses affected by the disaster. But U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's ruling could nearly quadruple what the London-based company has to pay in civil fines for polluting the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 spill.
Barbier presided over a trial in 2013 to apportion blame for the spill that spewed oil for 87 days in 2010. Eleven men died after the well blew.
The judge essentially divided blame among the three companies involved in the spill, ruling that BP bears 67 percent of the blame; Swiss-based drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd. takes 30 percent; and Houston-based cement contractor Halliburton Energy Service takes 3 percent.
In his 153-page ruling, Barbier said BP made "profit-driven decisions" during the drilling of the well that led to the deadly blowout.
"These instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks," he wrote.

BP is of course going to appeal the decision - 'cause God forbid they'll openly accept the blame after fighting this for four years - but are claiming they believe "that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court."

You want impartial?

Here's impartial:

  • Eleven workers died.
  • A massive explosion happened on a BP-owned oil rig, from what turned out to be from years of intentional negligence ignoring safety standards, all in a rush to get a rig running to churn out billions in profits.
  • A massive ecological disaster occurred as millions of gallons of crude oil - toxic, stifling - poured into the Gulf on a scale that dwarfed all previous oil spills.
  • Eleven families lost their loved ones.
  • Entire industries dependent on the Gulf for living - tourism, fishing - were wiped out or hit hard, and will remain so for years to come.
  • What part of "eleven men lost their lives" do you not get, BP?

It doesn't help BP's case that they've been slow to pay up for damages they've already agreed to own up.  Like any crook, they are loathe to part with the money they've so rightly killed other people to keep.

Some of the online chatter about BP's corrupt practices here, about the satisfaction that finally someone in authority is holding this corporation accountable for the blood on their ledger, is about how the insane rhetoric of the uber-rich claiming "corporations are people" ought to let this follow that logic to its rightful conclusion: putting BP as a corporation on death row for the deaths it caused.  There's a part of that which comes across as poetic justice: the truth is that will never happen, as it's impossible to strap a company logo down into the electric chair.  What should happen is that the courts - that Judge Barbier - should start forcing the CEOs and board of directors of these negligent criminal corporations to pay up in total all that they should.

No more delays.  No more excuses.  Pay all the damn fines and then some.  If these corporate overlords of malice and inhumanity refuse to, then throw them in jail until they do.  Did you know Exxon - the company responsible for the other major oil spill from hell the Valdez - still hasn't paid off their fines they had agreed to pay (they're still fighting it in the courts)?  Make them - Exxon, BP, all the other corporations wrecking havoc across our world - accountable to the law.  MAKE THEM ACCOUNTABLE TO THE PEOPLE WHO SUFFERED.

We are long overdue for true justice.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Homework for the Horde: Reading Assignment for September

Just to let the seven people following this blog know, Mr. Coates is asking the Horde to take part in a book discussion.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep up with it this time.

What we're reading this time is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  With luck your local library owns a copy, or else is available through your library's Overdrive eBook lender.

Discussions should open up on September 17, so we've all got a few days to get some reading done and take some notes.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Florida Ballot Amendments 2014: So Few Yet So Important

Another election cycle here in Florida.  Another round of Florida state amendments on the ballot for 2014 for the voters to decide.

Unlike previous ballots like 2012 and 2010 and 2008, this year we've got only three amendments to consider.  Could make for the smallest ballot sheet in recent history.  Deal is, these three are some of the biggest issues to vote on I've seen in ages.

Amendment One: Land Acquisition Trust Fund

The wording on this makes it so Florida has "to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years."

What's at stake is funding for a state-founded land trust dedicated towards overall environmental management and protection.  Funding for that trust had been slashed back in 2009, and it seems the current legislature leadership isn't in the mood to find replacement revenues.

If you've never been to Florida, or just moved here, or if you've lived here for 20-40 years and just plain forgot, this state has a very fragile ecosystem and not a lot of room for growth.  Geographically, we're a mid-sized state but population has us as the fourth-most.  That means a lot of our limited resources are getting pulled in a lot of directions, above all our water.  Drinking water is important, as is our lawn maintenance and agricultural needs for water.  Not to mention our state's reliance on tourism with our impressive chain of beaches, rivers, lakes, and parks.  The risk of pollution to key waterways - especially the Everglades - is always high.

I don't buy what I've seen of the opposition's arguments: that this would force a constitutional solution to what normal legislation ought to handle, that it would cause an unbalanced budget, that it would kill job-creating funds.  On the first point, our current legislature hasn't been in any rush to resolve this matter, so we've got nowhere else to go to resolve it.  On the second, we have other ways of balancing the budget IF said legislature opened their fricking minds to the options available: besides, the Fiscal Impact committee that measures the cost benefits of all amendment proposals can't say if this will hurt or boost revenues.  On the third point, any time a Republican says anything will affect "job creators" I don't believe them, because their idea of "jobs creation" is "more money to the rich".

The overall purpose of this amendment is to protect our state's environment and conserve our resources in a way to ensure ourselves and future generations can LIVE HERE.  With regards to Amendment One, I vote YES.

Amendment Two: Medical Marijuana

This one is the doozy, the headache.  The major bout on the general election card this November (in some ways it's a bigger fight than the hotly contested Governor's race between Crist and Scott).  Just arguing over any kind of decriminalization of a drug... this can get messy.  So I'd like to start off simple.

This amendment sets out to allow "the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana."

What this means: marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes for individuals suffering in such a way that only marijuana's effects - usually pain-killing, appetite stimulus, and specific treatment for illnesses like glaucoma - can help them.  The use can only be signed off by licensed state doctors and caregivers (people who can lose such licenses if they're careless or law-breaking).  Treatment and distribution centers have to register and get managed by a state's oversight office, the Department of Health.  The amendment spells out that federal law, which still classifies marijuana as a major - Class I - narcotic, cannot be violated.  That means recreational possession or use of marijuana is a no-no.

Florida isn't the first state to pursue a medical marijuana protocol: both Colorado and Washington are the more recent states that have even legalized the manufacture and sale of marijuana (in Colorado's case even for recreational use).  There are 17 other states with some level of medical marijuana rights, or a decriminalization of pot use to where those arrested aren't jailed for it (they're fined and/or sent to outpatient treatment).  For what it's worth, the decriminalization efforts in other nations - Portugal for example - demonstrates that decriminalization does not lead to massive drug abuse (most drug abuse dropped in fact).

I do admit this amendment is a slippery slope towards an overall decriminalization of marijuana: if effective in showing the use of pot as a medicinal herb, the next argument is obviously how pot is "safe" as a recreational drug.  This is where the debate get worse.  Because there are a lot of people who fear the potential spread and abuse of marijuana as a recreational drug.  Because the keystone of our nation's massive War On Drugs has been a fight against marijuana use across the board, medicinal or otherwise.

Here's the thing: the War On Drugs has been a disaster.  The government is spending billions every year towards fighting it, it's led to the militarization of our police force to abusive levels, and it's led to the packing of our prison system at the state and federal level with a ton of non-violent drug offenders at a human cost of making them more hardened criminals.

It's been forty-plus years of the official start of the War On Drugs and the amount of drug abuse has not abated.  There is an aspect of human behavior we're just not going to be able to overcome with draconian policing and arrests.  The sad thing is that we've seen this all before: we called it Prohibition.

We tried policing human behavior under the good intentions of ending rampant alcoholism, which was viewed as a blight upon society.  The temperance movement in the United States got to be pretty powerful, and during an era of major social and political reform got the 18th Amendment - basically banning all alcohol - passed by 1920.  Rather than end the consumption of beer, whiskey, and other alcoholic drinks, all this did was drive the manufacture and consumption of alcohol underground, into speakeasies and gambling dens and criminal hideouts (and into country clubs, people's homes, other places where social types gather).  Criminal gangs that lived on the edge of society suddenly ran a profitable black market industry that boosted their financial and political clout.  Street wars erupted between these gangs.  The courts were flooded with Prohibition-related cases that clogged up our legal system for years.  Corruption became rampant.  In less than 14 years, we had to pass the 21st Amendment - and if you understand how hard it is to amend the U.S. Constitution, you'll understand how serious a problem this was - to repeal the 18th - we've never repealed an amendment since - just to do something to combat the violence and corruption.

Since then, our nation's fight against alcohol abuse has been more restrained and focused.  We go after direct risks such as Driving Under the Influence of alcohol (since drunk driving is a severe risk to everyone on the streets).  We place chronic drinking addicts into probationary counseling services - rehab clinics and group therapy - rather than jail.  We teach our kids in schools about the dangers of alcohol, and we have laws banning the sale or sharing of alcoholic beverages to the underage.  It's not perfect - we still have alcoholics, and we always will - but it's a good-faith effort, and it's more an effort to treat and save rather than jail and punish.

Instead of treating drug abuse as a crime, we ought to be treating it as a medical/health care issue.  We ought to focus more energy and funding into treatment and counseling, which have been effective means.  We ought to treat the overuse of drugs the way we treat alcohol addiction: as a medical problem, not a crime.

I'm not a drug user.  I don't use marijuana (although I've known people who have).  I don't smoke nicotine cigarettes (which is more lethal than marijuana yet regulated by the feds).  I don't drink any alcohol, not even wine (again, in excess alcohol can be lethal, yet is still regulated by the feds).  I don't want to see any substance abuse of any kind for kids under 18 (in alcohol's case, the age limit is 21).  These are personal preferences for me.  Yet I don't see the severe harm of marijuana.  The death rate from pot overdose is non-existent: the amount of ingested THC (the chemical that makes marijuana the weed we know today) needed to overdose is thousands of times higher than the regular rate of ingestion.  Nearly every pot smoker just smokes one a day: it would take 20,000 of those rolls in one sitting to kill one smoker.  Even pot brownies - arguably more potent - doesn't have enough THC in it to cause death (diabetes, though...)

I honestly don't see why pot is viewed as a Class I danger drug up there with heroin, which is deadly (along with cocaine and oxy, both of which deserve to be Class I but aren't): if anything marijuana ought to be classified a Class III alongside the synthetic THC drug Marinol.

I'll grant you one thing: The most severe problem with marijuana is psychological, the impact it has on the brain.  It can induce depression and cause memory loss, and it can adversely hinder kids' development during their growth into adulthood.  Any artificial drug/stimulant is going to have its' negative effects.  Alcohol can cause cirrhosis of the liver and affect depressive mood swings.  Alcohol in excess also causes violent mood swings that lead to a lot of other deaths (if anything, marijuana users tend not to trash the bar while high).  Smoking nicotine kills the lungs, causes cancer, and has been a major burden to our health care system.  Yet we regulate those drugs as best as possible to prevent kid and teen abuse: we regulate their sale and manufacture to try and reduce the health risks.  We can do the same with marijuana.

And that's not even getting into the legalization of industrial hemp, a cousin to the marijuana plant that's also been banned because of its' tenuous relationship (even though hemp barely contains any THC worth bothering).  At least our national government is making some sensible strides there.

For all these reasons - above all that this amendment is one more steps towards ending a War On Drugs we've already lost and that we can start treating marijuana use in a sensible productive fashion - I am going to vote YES on Amendment Two.

Amendment Three: Judicial Vacancies

This is the legislative-induced amendment proposal allowing the governor to set nominations for judicial vacancies, based off of a nominating committee list of no less than three names and no more than six.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?

Hidden in this amendment is the change making it possible for a current sitting governor to nominate a candidate for a judicial vacancy before that vacancy even happens (the "prospective" part of the amendment's wording).

Say Rick "No Ethics" Scott is still the sitting governor if this amendment passes.  And he's there in office 2015 and he's looking at the State Supreme Court and sees there's three judges facing mandatory retirement in 2019, four years away and during the tenure of the next possible governor (due to term limits, Scott can't run for 2019).  Scott can use the power granted by this proposed amendment to nominate in 2015 three people to fill those eventual vacancies in 2019 even though those judges are still sitting there doing their jobs.  Worse, these nominations can't be overturned or blocked by the next governor, who would want to have the right and authority to nominate his/her own candidates for the office.  In fact, all seven seats on the Florida court can have their "vacancies" filled by a governor who'll be long gone from office by the time all of them are retired out (voluntary or not).

To call this "rigging" or packing a court is an understatement.  This amendment can easily grant a governor who'll be long gone from office the power to put people on any judicial seat without repercussion or any input from the future governor(s), even twenty years down the line.  It denies future voters the power to vote into office a governor that can represent their interests in handling of legal matters relevant to the state in those future times: we'd be stuck with a judge nominated ten or fifteen years ago whose political bias - and yes this is a thing to worry about - won't reflect the current mood or needs.  It doesn't matter if this is a power that can go to governors like Lawton Chiles or even Reubin Askew (arguably the greatest, most honest governor the state of Florida ever had): this is a power that can be abused without limit and can create long-standing animosity and acts of retaliation that would cause decades of legal chaos.

This would be like nominating a replacement Library Director for Broward County Libraries, even though that county system just hired a director and isn't due to retire for another 27 years or so.  In the meantime for those 27 years of waiting, the library system can easily change services, require different resources, respond to new needs for the public that calls for a new brand of leadership that the replacement Director just isn't suited to fill.  This denies the library system the chance to hire at the moment of need the best possible candidate, someone who is versed in that future: instead they're stuck with a rigid, outdated Director more than likely to pursue goals and agendas no longer relevant nor working.

This smacks of Rick Scott and his buddies in the state legislature looking to pack the courts with their pro-corporate, anti-government cronies as soon as possible: the potential shifts in population - even in aging old Florida - is making the Sunshine State more Democrat/Blue by 2020, when even gerrymandering can't save the conservative wingnuts.  Fearing the future, they're hoping to use whatever power they have in the present to rig the game their way for the foreseeable future.  This is an amendment that needs to go down in flames.  For the Love of God, VOTE NO on Amendment Three this year.

And, just one more thing: GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT PEOPLE.  And for the LOVE OF GOD, please vote for Charlie Crist as Governor... get Rick "He's a Goddamn FRAUD" Scott out of office RIGHT NOW.

I thank you.  Stay focused this November, people.