Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What I Want to Hear from President Biden's First State of the Union Speech

So it's over 100 days into President Biden's term of office, and House Speaker Pelosi sent the invite to Biden to appear before Congress (and members of the Supreme Court) to give his first national prime-time speech about the state of the nation, such as our ongoing vaccination efforts to end the threat of COVID as well as ongoing and future plans to get our economy rolling post-pandemic.

To which I would make a few suggestions as to what I hope to hear from Joe Biden this Wednesday night:

1. "My fellow Americans, the state of the union is VIGOROUS. Or 'Able-Bodied'. Let's try 'Strapping', no no too sexy, wait how about Hard As Nails! Hmm, I will draw the line at 'Tenacious'. No, I will NOT say 'Strong', I'm sick of hearing it, we need to add more words to our political vocabulary, it's called a thesaurus people, break it out once in a while!" 

2. I want to hear Biden apologize to Generation X for promoting Dokken over the likes of Night Ranger, Guns N Roses, or Skid Row.

3. "And a shout-out to Tucker Carlson, who should be told that filing false parental abuse claims in many states is grounds for felony arrest for the accusers. Good luck in jail, pal."

4. "It should be the policy of the United States of America to fight injustice everywhere, to which my administration will be enacting national policies to reform our city, county, and state police departments to reduce brutality towards our unarmed citizenry, and push for stronger civilian oversight of those departments to reduce abuses and improve our nation's trust in the institutions we need to keep the peace."

5. Biden's new tax plan of any person earning over $250,000 a year either in income or capital gains be taxed $1,000,000 each time said person acts like an asshole and refuse to put money in the tip jar at any of the local Starbucks.

6. Seriously though, Biden needs to confirm that taxes are going to go up on the 1-2 percent of highest incomes in the country to help pay for that massive infrastructure plan our nation needs.

7. "And even though I come from Delaware, my love of American sports is such that I will sign an executive order forcing the NFL to sell the San Diego Chargers to a local coalition of stock holders similar to the Green Bay setup, because FUCK the greedheads who moved the Chargers to an L.A. city that still hasn't accepted them. Chargers are San Diego, dammit, and that's the way things ought to be."

8. "Also, new rule: every Oscars Best Picture nominee list should include at least one superhero movie regardless of its comics 'verse, be it DC or Marvel or Dark Horse or Image or other, as long as that movie stars either Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Gal Gadot, or any of the guys and gals who played Doctor Who."

And in closing: "Get to it, people. We got shit to do. AMERICA, TRANSFORM AND ROCK OUT!" (leaves the stage to the Night Ranger song "You Can Still Rock In America")

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Hit Me Baby With The Vaccine One More Time (w/ Update)

So today I got my second Moderna vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

Ahhh, the ambiance of a retail store's pharmacy corner

I know what you're thinking:

This is the one that's supposed to wipe you out, create nausea, sweats, fever, general malaise, an unshakeable ennui, a propensity to write free verse poetry in Italian, and a possible rash.

It's been three hours. I was promised super powers. Where's my heat vision dammit.

(Update 4/24): As a follow-up, the following Thursday about two hours into work I got lightheaded, but not dizzy. Fatigued would be better. I knew this would be a possible side-effect so I tried to manage myself for the rest of the day, but by the afternoon my co-workers were worried I wouldn't even be able to drive home. Since I argued my balance was okay enough to walk, we compromised and a co-worker who lived near me agreed to follow me home to make sure I didn't crash or anything.

At home, I had a small dinner - leftover mac and cheese with a meat sandwich and sliced pears - and then napped for about two hours. I thought I was feeling better but just as I was about to get into bed I got hit with a severe case of the shivers. I was trembling so much it actually made it hard for me to move at all. It took serious effort of will to get my CPAP hooked up and then flopping into bed pulling every blanket I had over me to get warmer. It took about an hour of lying there shivering like mad before I felt any warmth at all.


Still no superpowers, either.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Thoughts On The Guilty Verdict And A Moment of Justice (w/ Update)

The news broke this afternoon: Derek Chauvin found guilty on all three counts in the murder of George Floyd (via Laurel Wamsley at NPR.org):

The jury has found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all the counts he faced over the death of George Floyd. The trial has been one of the most closely watched cases in recent memory, setting off a national reckoning on police violence and systemic racism even before the trial commenced.

There's been a national reckoning on police violence and system racism since the 1960s, but let's discuss that later on.

Chauvin, 45, has been found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

With only his eyes visible as the rest of his face was hidden behind a surgical mask, Chauvin watched as the verdict was returned. Judge Peter Cahill thanked the jury members for their "heavy-duty jury service." Chauvin was remanded into custody as the jury was dismissed, and Cahill said sentencing is expected in eight weeks...

Floyd's death on Memorial Day 2020 sparked protests in Minneapolis, across the United States and around the world. It prompted calls for police reform and soul-searching on issues of racial injustice.

Floyd was a 46-year-old Black man from Houston who had moved to Minnesota three years earlier. He was a father and brother who idolized his mother, loved making music and had been a star athlete as a young man.

Floyd died after Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds as Floyd lay facedown, hands cuffed behind his back...

This was the great sticking point, the part of the story where the argument between "Black Lives Matter" vs. the "Blue Lives Matter" of law enforcement goes dark. We've had previous documented instances of police brutality towards Blacks - not just the violent responses in Birmingham 1963 and the rest of the Civil Rights protests, but also Rodney King to Amadou Diallo to Michael Brown to Tamir Rice to Sandra Bland to Breonna Taylor and to Daunte Wright just a bloody week ago - and in all of those instances were acts of bullying and brutality that ought to make people sick to their stomachs.

But what Chauvin did to Floyd crossed the line into pure sadism. Even with Floyd handcuffed and in custody, something in Chauvin's brain triggered his urge to kneel on another human's neck with enough force to choke Floyd to death.

Please note what the experts said: Floyd was dead within five minutes. Chauvin kept pressing on his neck for another four minutes to make sure of it.

And even with all the expert testimony, all of the eyewitnesses on the stand tearfully shaken by what they saw during Floyd's death, all the prosecution's presentation that what Chauvin did was NOT by the book for law enforcement, with everything I would argue proved Chauvin committed murder... there was still this fear that enough members of the jury would ignore all that.

Even with Chauvin's defense lawyer putting up what observers noted as a weak defense of his client, there was this understanding outside of that courtroom that it didn't matter how strong a defense he could pass (there really wasn't: there was no goddamned excuse to crush a man's neck like that, ever) only as long as the defense could get one person on that jury to buy "reasonable doubt." We've seen this movie before: What looked to be a clear-cut case of police brutality on Rodney King ended up with the jury siding with the cops, what looked to be a clear-cut case of excessive force (41 shots!) on Diallo ended up with that jury siding with the cops. And far too many cases where local prosecutors refused to go to trial because "they lacked evidence" (what they lacked was the willingness to cross the local police departments those prosecutors have to work with every day).

There was - and still is - this fear that juries will err on the side of reasonable doubt in favor of police because of the built-in "respect" for law enforcement our society relies on for "peace and order." Even at the expense of dead unarmed minorities. That was the dread until the verdict was finally reached and some slight acceptance of justice delivered could be felt.

And even now, even with this verdict as a form of accountability - that there is a line of excessive force that the public cannot tolerate from our police - there is still the reality that this is just one brief drop of justice in an ocean crashing with police misconduct in the United States, something that does not look like it will start behaving itself any time soon.

In the time after Floyd's murder, with that on the national consciousness, time and again cops have been caught on camera committing brutal acts against unarmed Blacks for the slightest - oft-times unjustified - excuses. It's been getting to where even White folks are thinking "what the hell are cops doing pulling over unarmed Blacks for traffic stops all the time?" (hint: We learned about all this back in 2014 when Michael Brown's death led to an investigation of Ferguson's police force, and that the police harassment of Blacks is an ongoing extortion racket.)

How many of you think that with this Guilty verdict on Chauvin, how many cops will sit back and think "whoa, we need to cut back on the bullying and brutality"? How many cops do you imagine will think instead "next time if that happens to me, make sure there's no cameras present"?

What happened today is a moment of personal justice for George Floyd's family and loved ones.

What happens tomorrow is the rest of us still working towards holding our police - city cops, county sheriffs, state patrols, hell even the FBI - accountable to ensure no more unarmed people - no more minorities, no more women, no more kids - get killed by the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect US.

(Update 4/21): As Denny noted in the Comments already, there's been another police shooting this time in Columbus, Ohio. The cops were called to a family altercation where a 15-year-old girl Ma'Khia Bryant was defending herself with a knife, she was the one who had called the police for help... and when one of the cops got inside he promptly put four bullets into her. Jesus Christ. With all that was going on with the Chauvin trial at that moment, the cops still couldn't be bothered to keep their trigger fingers away from their guns or try to de-escalate a situation. They just went in, shooting first and refusing to ask questions at all. The law enforcement in our country doesn't want to learn from their mistakes. The cops don't want to accept the possibility THEY are in the wrong here.






Sunday, April 18, 2021

America Is Back to Daily Mass Shootings, How's THAT for F-CKED UP Normalcy

Over the weekend, it's been looking like the nation has gone back to mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting after mass s... you get the point.

We're still getting over the mass shooting in Boulder, and the one at the Atlanta Asian massage parlors, and the one in Virginia Beach, no not the one in 2019. We're at the point cities are getting repeat mass shootings. Hell, we're at the point where a school shooting involving just one death barely makes a ripple.

A sizable number of Americans have been screaming "IT'S THE GUNS, IT'S THE MOTHERFUCKING GUNS" but we are screaming into the void because the goddamned Russian-owned National Rifle Body Count Association owns enough of our government that we can't get any goddamned sensible gun safety law passed - Universal Background Checks, ban on military-grade assault rifles, limited magazine/clip capacity, licensing or insurance requirements for ownership - at all.

Anybody still arguing "that gun ownership is not a problem" in the United States is blind to the reality that we can't fucking trust gun owners anymore, you are ALL a goddamned threat to the rest of us. You are arguing for unsafe guns in unreliable hands. We keep seeing this in the news with every goddamned shooting report from the domestic violence bastards to the mass shooters blazing their way to infamy and a goddamned body count. Even the police officers way too twitchy with their trigger fingers are proof we can't trust a goddamned single person with a gun.

And the blood in our streets keeps rising and rising...

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Got Myself Back Into Twitter Jail

I punched a man in Retweet just to watch him die...

Apparently, trying to encourage sportswriter/ESPN celebrity Katie Nolan to hunt down a misogynistic  tweeter and punch him is a line too far for the modern Twitter sensibility.

Right now, I've been banned for 6 days, meaning I can read tweets but can't reply or retweet them, or post new tweets of me own. I *can* Direct Message people if I need to, but it's not stuff that will be out there for the social media consumption.

But this is okay. This is a price to pay for being on social media. Sometimes, you cross a line and you gotta answer for breaking that rule. I get that. It's not like I need to tweet every minute of the day.

(knee starts twitching)

My entire life isn't on Twitter, or Facebook, hell I'm halfway off FB I barely do any social stuff there now, it's just working the library's Page to promote our events and all.

(slight agitation with the eyes blinking a little more than they should)

I can quit at any time! Sure! I don't need Twitter! (twitching becomes more pronounced) I can just go back to the Usenet chats! Where's my link to alt.tv.x-files! I'm totally fine with this! SIX DAYS WITHOUT TWEETING WILL BE A SWEET VACATION FOR ME! I CAN ACTUALLY GET SOME WORK DONE, LIKE VACUUMING THE LIVING ROOM OR SOMETHING! WHO EVEN NEEDS TO TWEET ANYMORE, I MEAN trump's BEEN BANNED FOR LIFE! I AM SO GOOD WITH THIS, I PROBABLY... PROBABLY...


(begins banging the jail bars) ATTICA! ATTICA!!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Very Simple Reason Republicans Are Bashing Trans Teens

This is a priority thing apparently among the Republican-controlled state legislatures, because the Florida Legislature are passing these Hate bills instead of working on things like fixing our state's unemployment benefits system, or upgrading our schools or paying our teachers better. Via Saundra Weathers, Troy Kinsey, and Justin Soto at Bay News 9 website:

The Florida House on Wednesday approved a GOP-proposed ban on transgender female athletes joining female athletic teams in high school and college sports by a 77-40 vote.

The companion bill in the state Senate still has to pass before legislation makes it to Governor Ron DeSantis' desk for his signature. The vote in the House followed party lines.

Florida is one of more than 30 other states with bills aiming to force transgender athletes to play on teams for their sex assigned at birth.

In House Bill 1475, lawmakers are proposing a ban on athletes born male, from competing in female sports, but it allows anyone born female to compete in any sport...

You'll notice the bill only affects those born male who shift to female. Nothing about females who shift to male. You'll also notice the unsubtle amount of homophobia in the whole charade the Republicans are pushing. Back to the story:

Supporters of the LGBTQ community say the bill is just discriminatory. Tampa Bay Rowdies player Zach Steinberger is a member of the LGBTQ organization Athlete Ally. While he says as a straight man he can’t identify personally with those trans athletes, he plans to continue to fight for their rights. 

“No matter what you identify as, no matter what or how you’re born it’s something that should be a safe and free environment," he said. "And to try and take that away from somebody is, that’s dismantling to me. That is so un-American..."

The article also highlights how the collegiate NCAA organization is protesting these laws and threatening to cancel any state-level championship games (like the regional basketball tourneys) to express their disgust and hurt the states' prestige and loss of revenue. Other sports are talking about similar boycotts and cancellations.

But the Republicans are not cowed on their agenda, for a very simple reason:

The cruelty is the point. It doesn't matter to them if this hurts 10,000 transgender teens or just one, as long as they can express that cruelty they will indulge in it with the upmost glee.

Much in the same way that the Far Right hates various groups of people for who they are - Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Women (not just feminists, they barely conceal their contempt for their fellow conservative women), Gays - the Far Right hates Trans people out of a twisted level of fear. The Evangelical religious base that dominates much of the Far Right are terrified that Trans people will "teach our male children anal sex" or other forms of sexual debauchery, echoing the fears that the Far Right that Black men lust after White Women, or that the Gays/Lesbians will impose their "lifestyle choices" on Heteros to destroy our population.

None of that fear based on fact, and yet still it drives the Far Right to hate everyone "not us" in these extreme ways.

There was no crisis involving our teen and college athletics programs. There's no evidence that Trans people - or men claiming to be Trans - are attacking women in locker rooms or bathrooms. This is all hysteria, built on fear by Hetero men (and it's mostly guys) that they're gonna get anal-raped.

This is all bullshit. All these laws are going to do is humiliate Transgender people - especially youths, who are under enough social pressure as is - or worse expose those Trans teens to acts of violence promoted by that Far Right fear and hate.

Christ said to Love One Another like brothers and sisters, yet these Evangelicals and demagogues and wingnut politicians would rather hate us all instead.

God help us.

Monday, April 12, 2021

They're Supposed To Be Trained Better Than This

There's been another cop shooting an unarmed Black man again, and this time the excuse is "It was an accident, we swear."

During a supposed routine traffic stop - because the cops spotted an expired license tag and air fresheners in the wrong spot (??) - in Brooklyn Center Minnesota, the entire thing escalated into an attempt to handcuff Daunte Wright for a misdemeanor warrant (!) for failing to appear in court on an earlier charge, and then escalated from there into this (the video - available at this Balloon Juice article - can be shocking to many, so be forewarned) according to this article by Becky Sullivan at NPR.org:

At a press conference Monday, Brooklyn Center police Chief Tim Gannon played body camera footage of the shooting, saying its circumstances demanded transparency.

"It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet," Gannon said. "This appears to me, from what I've viewed and the officer's reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright."

The cop - supposedly trained for months on the weapons at hand - could not tell the difference between an 8 ounce Taser and a 31 ounce firearm. Also, they're supposed to be trained to know which hip to pull their Taser from.

This is either a massive failure to train and re-train adequately for a high-risk job, or this is an excuse for yet another cop who had no problem putting bullets into yet another unarmed Black person.


And I get to accuse the cops here about the possibility of racism being the motivation here, because as this shooting took place not more than 10 miles from this incident they are wrapping up the murder trial of Derek Chauvin for his crushing of George Floyd's neck during "a routine stop" for a counterfeit Twenty.

How many "routine traffic stops" end up with the Black person who's being stopped also ending up dead on the street like Maurice Gordon or dead in a jail cell like Sandra Bland?

Someone on Twitter recently noticed as a White person that she was never asked to exit her vehicle when the cops pulled her over for traffic violations. I admit I have been pulled over myself - three times for speeding, once for an expired tag like Wright, once for failure to fully stop at a Stop sign (which I did, and the cop was an asshole clearly working a ticket quota), and also caught at a traffic checkpoint in my neighborhood where the cop told me one of my headlights was out (but he let me go because he noticed my driver's ID listed my address literally a block away). I have NEVER been asked to step out of the car when pulled over, and it's making me suspicious as a White Guy why cops seem to keep ordering Blacks to get out of their cars before everything goes to Hell.

Why the hell did they have to arrest Wright for MISDEMEANORS, when they could have simply written another ticket for the expired tag and reminded him he needed to answer his court summons on the earlier pending misdemeanor. He wasn't a rampaging criminal mastermind, he was a 20-year-old who didn't have half his shit figured out and now won't get the chance to.

I may not be a law officer, and not a lawyer, but I have had enough experiences at my end of things dealing with cops that the best way to keep things cool is to keep the driver in the car and just let some shit go until you know for a fact you got a felony on your hands and you have to make a serious arrest. And even then, there ought to be ways to de-escalate the situation so that NO ONE GETS SHOT.

Let me refer back to that Balloon Juice article by Adam L. Silverman, who points out the clear problem we have in the United States:

Daunte Wright was pulled over for expired tags, which is a running problem in Minnesota because of pandemic related delays in processing renewals. Expired tags are a misdemeanor offense. When they ran him in the computer, they got a return that he had a warrant for failing to appear after being sent a summons for a court appearance on a different misdemeanor. Neither of these things would seem to necessitate any form of escalation. Wright is not heard threatening the cops. He’s not moving towards them when he pulls away from being cuffed after the female officer intervenes while one of the two male officers is trying to cuff him. I’m not even sure why she would escalate to the Taser.

I’m going to make a semi-informed guesstimate, however. I would put money on the fact that this officer has attended a continuing education class with Bill Lewinski and the absolutely bullshit training from his Force Science Institute, which teaches law enforcement to immediately escalate to the highest level of force lest they be killed by any interaction with the citizenry. Lewinsky created his own course of study and “field” within psychology when he did his doctorate and Canadian courts won’t allow him to provide expert testimony anymore because he is a “self proclaimed authority” on law enforcement use of force. Lewinski’s “police psychology” and his expert witness testimony justify every police shooting on the basis that police cannot wait to employ force lest they be harmed or killed. And if she didn’t take one of Lewinski’s continuing education course, then she had one on “killology”, which is equally garbage. Or one of the other similar courses that have turned too many law enforcement officers into “shoot first and don’t answer questions later” responders.

I write this as someone who has taught hundreds of law enforcement officers as a former criminology professor, as well as conducted continuing education for Federal and state law enforcement on how to conduct Engagement to deescalate situations in order to be more effective. And as someone who is a member of the Nassau County, NY Detectives Association. Until or unless law enforcement training – both the initial entry education and especially the continuing education – is revised to remove the bullshit junk science that justifies immediate escalations of force, this is going to continue...

Our cops are supposed to serve the public trust and uphold the law. Cops are NOT supposed to be executioners. We need to rethink our police excessive use of force, because all it's doing is getting unarmed minorities killed at an alarming rate and making our police forces look like either fools or racist assholes. >:(

Friday, April 09, 2021

Appomattox Surrender Day 2021

Every April 9th ought to be a national holiday in the United States.

This is the day Robert E. Lee surrendered the main armed force of the Confederacy to U.S. Grant's Union Army.

While the Civil War itself would continue on a few more weeks, for all intents the southern slaveowner insurrection attempting to keep slavery in the United States was over. The Thirteenth Amendment had just gotten passed in Congress and the antebellum world the Confederacy struggled to continue would be no more.

So to all of the Lost Causers/White Supremacists/"Slavery Wasn't All Bad" Far Right apologists:






Seriously though, we need to make Appomattox Surrender Day a national holiday, during which we all point at anybody still gleeful about the Confederacy and laugh and laugh and laugh. It'll be like Guy Fawkes Day, but with more humiliating putdowns towards the segregationist assholes.

Thank you.


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

It's the Stuff That's Legal That Should Worry You

Who can forget the time Bo Pilgrim, the East Texas chicken magnate, walked onto the floor of the senate during a special session in 1989 and started handing out checks for ten thousand dollars - payee blank - to any senator who would take one? Seven took the money, but five gave it back when the story broke. Still, it was technically legal. That's Texas ethics for you. The real scandal isn't what's illegal: it's what's legal.

-- Molly Ivins, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead (p. 205)

You should probably read David A Graham's article in full (behind the paywall) at the Atlantic, but here's the highlights:

If these scandals seem to demand an explanation for how a member of Congress, entrusted to hold power in Washington, could behave in such a way, the reality may be the opposite: Only a member of Congress could behave like this and get away with it. Whether Gaetz’s alleged behavior rose to the criminal is yet to be seen, but if true, it would have gotten him fired long ago in any conventional gig. Congress is no normal gig, though. It is, almost by design, a hostile workplace...

Previously, while serving in the Florida House of Representatives, Gaetz was “part of a group of young male lawmakers who created a ‘game’ to score their female sexual conquests, which granted ‘points’ for various targets such as interns, staffers or other female colleagues in the state House,” according to ABC.

His behavior didn’t improve when he got to Washington in 2017. According to CNN, staff in then–House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office had “a discussion with Gaetz about acting professionally while in Congress.” Gaetz also screamed at then-Representative Cedric Richmond during a June 2020 hearing.

One might hope that “acting professionally” would be the bare minimum for a U.S. representative, especially one who had already served in a state legislature—and whose father was once president of the Florida Senate. But Congress has often been the site of abhorrent behavior, and state legislatures are even worse. Gaetz was a product of his milieu.

Congress has none of the measures in place that other workplaces do to deal with bad behavior. There’s no HR department, so when members misbehave, there’s no one to handle it. In theory, the House and Senate ethics committees can investigate and punish members, but in practice they are reluctant to punish their colleagues, and anyway, there are few real punishments short of expulsion. Nor are there bosses. The Ryan staff meeting may seem like a weak response, but the speaker has little real control, either...

I don't think Graham covered it in his article, but it should be worth noting that Congress managed a slush fund to pay of sexual harassment claims whenever they came up. It was fucking baked into the system, people. They only changed the rules on that to make the congresscritters pay out of pocket once the news leaked in 2017.

But Graham does note, much like others in the Beltway media have pondered, that Congress does not have a means to discipline reckless and abusive and misbehaving members. The ethics committees in both houses are toothless, and the Speaker's powers to punish wayward members (and reward the better behaved ones) were taken away by "reforms" in the 1990s. One of Newt Gingrich's lasting legacies of his Far Right takeover of the Republican House leadership in 1994 has been the near-constant lapses of ethical behavior by even the deepest backbencher, all because he emboldened the fringe caucuses to worse and worse behavior.

One thing the Graham hints at, but doesn't go into great length about, is how Congress intentionally writes into a lot of their regulatory laws for other businesses and industries ways to exempt themselves from such ethical oversight or regulation. Hiring practices, healthcare coverage, benefits, transparency requirements, safety regs, what have you: Congress - regardless of who's in charge, which should shame the Democratic leadership but doesn't - doesn't want to be held accountable like the rest of us lowly plebeians.

So from that foundation, you can see how someone like Gaetz - like a lot of elected officials who keep getting caught in both sexual and financial scandal year after year - could even thrive in such a work environment while his bad behavior goes public.

We are dealing with a new breed of elected official since the 1990s: One that knows full well the game is rigged to your benefit as long as you remain shameless and vulgar. The ones who resign out of shame and duty are actually more honorable than the bastards who stay in office right up until their Guilty verdicts in a court of law. And by then, of course, it's all too late.

If we want to get rid of the Gaetzs who clog up our elective offices from both the state and federal levels, the majority of voters need to pay attention to the unethical (even legal) stuff they do and vote them out (IMHO, that means voting out the corrupted GOP). Confirm the ones we're hiring in will get serious about reforms to give their ethics committees more power to enforce. Hold them to the same legal standards the laws hold us. Balance the scales.

Otherwise, everything illegal for us remains legal for them. God DAMN them.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Piney Point

The alert on this went out last night. In short: Oh Crap. (via Zachary T. Sampson and Josh Fiallo at Tampa Bay Times (paywalled)):

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Manatee County on Saturday as officials fear an “imminent” collapse at the old Piney Point phosphate plant could release a rush of polluted water into the surrounding area — and then into Tampa Bay itself.

The situation grew more dire as crews attempted to shore up a breach in a wall around a 480-million gallon wastewater reservoir that has been leaking for days. They used front-end loaders, excavators and dump trucks to pile dirt over the breach.

But at 10:30 a.m. Saturday the on-site engineers “deemed the situation to be escalating,” said Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur. One containment wall shifted to the side, he said, signaling a structural collapse could happen at any time.

An “immense amount of water” could rush out in a sheet within seconds or minutes if berms at the site crack wide open, said acting county administrator Scott Hopes...

The governor’s emergency order also includes Hillsborough and Pinellas counties due to their proximity to “an imminent hazard.” The DeSantis administration began sending pumps, cranes and other heavy equipment, Hopes said, because the county might need those tools in the event of a collapse...

If you look at Google Maps, you'll notice Piney Point is right along the southern coast of Tampa Bay. The potential spillage of toxic waste into that bay can cause a wide range of environmental disasters ranging from contaminated drinking water to possibly triggering deadly algae growth commonly known as Red Tide. Our local sea life and ecosystems are in grave danger.

If you also look at Google Maps, you might want to trace the route along State Road 60 between Brandon, FL through southern Polk County towards Lake Wales. You might notice all these oddly-shaped blue rectangles and patterns dotting the landscape. Those are all the places where the local phosphate mining industry has carved out huge pits to get at the phosphate in the Florida sediment. You might think that once they filtered out the phosphate that the mining companies would put that dirt back... but whatever is left from the process is too toxic to put back into the ground.

If you drive along SR 60 along that route, especially between Mulberry to Bartow, you'll notice these mountain-sized dirt piles along either side of the highway. I remember seeing one of these mountains years ago, maybe back when I was eight or nine years old on a field trip with my church. More than forty years later, I'm counting four of them now every time I drive to work (and so many more of them apparently further down towards Hardee County).

Piney Point seems to be a slightly different type of dumping ground, for what seems to be the toxic wastewater or chemicals left after the processing treatments for phosphate mining is done. It seems to be odd that the companies dump this mess in parts of Florida within close proximity to valued and precious ecosystems where a lot of Florida residents reside.

Then again, so much of central Florida has been overdeveloped - is still overdeveloping, with half the wetlands around here turning into shopping malls and luxury apartments - that I'd argue far too many people live on top of or next to likely Superfund sites

How the hell is Piney Point turning into a crisis point now?

Because we're decades into Republican leadership that has valued business, development, and resource mining over the livelihood and safety of the citizenry. Because even after a supermajority of Floridians pressed for a land and water conservation amendment back in 2014, our state legislature has failed to keep up with funding those efforts. Because we're living in a world where "OSHA compliance" is a 4-letter-word to our corporations. These dumping sites have been ticking time bombs for decades now and our ability to contain these places have rusted out or eroded away.

Republicans have been mismanaging this state ever since the Jeb Bush era. We've seen it with the toxic algae polluting Lake Okeechobee during Rick Scott's tenure (and still hasn't been cleaned up). Piney Point is yet another toxic bill coming due, and our Gulf Coast is going to pay the price for this failure of leadership.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

The Republican Dilemma: Adapt or Die

(Update 4/6/21: Thanks again to Batocchio for including this article in Crooks&Liars Mike's Blog Round-Up! Please check out the site, and support your local library during #NationalLibraryWeek ) 

I may have blogged once or twice before about the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Especially in regards to a Republican Party that no longer respected the American Republic.

The Iron Law basically states that any organization - usually political - that starts with broad support across populations will eventually end up with only an elite or specific faction of that organization in charge of it. One of the side elements of this Law is that a moment comes when that group has a choice between upholding their ideals and imploding from the consequent schism, or adapting/corrupting their ideals in order to maintain their broad support.

The modern Republican Party kind of inverts that side rule: They are corrupting themselves to uphold the oligarchs' ideals - tax cuts for the rich, racism and misogyny for everyone else - rather than adapting themselves to maintain any semblance of broad support with Americans.

We've been seeing it as they slide into Minority Party Rule, where they no longer reflect the majority views of the American voting population, yet maintain political control because they've corrupted themselves and the processes by which our political controls get voted on. A corruption of process we see through Gerrymandering at the state level to grant themselves safe Republican districts at the expense of the voters, and their actions in the past decade of pushing for stricter voting regulations to restrict voting rights rather than uphold them.

Leading up to this past month where the Republican-controlled states - lead by Georgia and Texas - are passing or planning to pass voting restrictions so severe they've pretty much brought back the Jim Crow laws from the 1880s-1960s. Consider the damage being done by Georgia (via Zack Beauchamp at Vox):

The bill, known as SB 202, gives state-level officials the authority to usurp the powers of county election boards — allowing the Republican-dominated state government to potentially disqualify voters in Democratic-leaning areas. It criminalizes the provision of food and water to voters waiting in line, in a state where lines are notoriously long in heavily nonwhite precincts. It requires ID for absentee ballots and limits the placement of ballot drop boxes...

Everybody - myself included - jumped on the most sadistic part of that bill, the part where people can get arrested and jailed for providing food and water to people waiting in long lines (lines that tend to form in Black-heavy cities/counties that have had precincts taken away to force those long lines in the first place). But that's not the scariest part, this is: The bit where the state can disqualify county-level election results in case those counties fail to vote the way the Republicans want them to (hint: never FOR the Democratic candidates). This is where the GOP can say "FUCK YOU, Democratic voters, we don't want you winning anywhere" and nullify the choices their own citizens prefer. They're telling these voters to not even bother trying.

There is nothing in the bill specifically attempting to deny the vote to Blacks or Latinos or even Asians - because even the conservative-held courts will balk at that in this day and age - but given the recent attempts by the Georgia Republicans to disenfranchise those particular communities - with reduced precincts in poor (minority) neighborhoods, for example - you can do the math. You don't expect the Republicans to denounce the rich and mostly White counties they'll be winning, do you?

These laws, these rebirths of Jim Crow 50 years after the Voting Rights Act enfranchised Americans to vote, are not protecting democracy or the republic. These laws are getting passed on a Big Lie (from the liar trump, who still can't accept the facts he lost), that there's massive voter fraud. The Republicans keep screaming that there's fraud but can never prove it, and yet they're using their own screaming lies to justify restrictions we voters do not need.

Why are Republicans lying like this? Because they can't admit to the truth that they no longer reflect the majority views of the United States. They've slid down a path of ideological purification, seeking more conservative leadership that would stick to Far Right dogma, making it harder for any leadership to shift back towards positions on issues more favorable to more Americans. The Republicans' ideology has become so calcified and broken that in 2020 they refused to establish a platform at all, running instead on their candidates' personalities (in trump's case, a Cult of Personality).

The Republicans know they are no longer in majority control of the country - and even in some of the large Red States they're holding onto with these suppression laws - and they also know that the future will not be kind to them: It's long been an open (non)secret that by 2028 the population demographics are against them. To quote from the Center for American Progress' report on voting trends:

Many analysts suggest that if current voting patterns remain the same as in recent elections, the projected rise of communities of color—Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and others—will favor Democrats as the Republican-leaning white share of the electorate shrinks...

The scenarios in this report suggest that there are paths for both parties to win the Electoral College in 2020 and beyond. For Republicans, future success is tied to mobilizing their strength among whites without college educations—a still-substantial but shrinking portion of the electorate—while attaining gains among at least some growing demographic groups. A narrow Republican reliance on noncollege-educated whites would lead, at best, to continued popular vote losses and ever smaller Electoral College wins, which would eventually peter out...

Republicans could (and in 2016, did) win the Electoral College through relying on their base of non-colleged Whites, but they needed (and still need) a mix of disgruntled voters among the non-White blocs. They pulled that off with surprising numbers from Latinos in some states (Florida, where anti-socialistic views turned enough voters away from Dems) both in 2016 and 2020.

But 2020 demonstrated enough losses from White suburbanites negating that bloc's advantage for Republicans, with little sign they're regaining those voters back for 2024 and beyond. It did not help Republicans that 2020 voter turnout among Blacks - especially in Georgia - went up thanks to the mail-in balloting during the pandemic.

Hence the push now to shut down mail-in options and ballot dropoffs and early voting and a hundred other things that help poor (minority) voters, all because Republicans don't want to make the outreach efforts to those voters to balance with their GOP base.

Republicans don't want to make that outreach because they can't. The party itself has become so beholden to their extremist factions - who are mostly rage-driven, racist, and misogynist - that any attempt to moderate the party's stances on issues would cause that base to implode. 

That side rule about the Iron Law of Oligarchy, where a political party reaches a point where it has to Adapt Or Die: The Republican Party has finally reached that moment, these anti-voting laws the big red flag showing us all they are willing to fight to the bitter end on their racist, greedy ways rather than adapt to survive the coming demographic changes.

There is some irony to this: The Republicans cannot adapt, because the party dies if they do. Thanks to the electoral reality that our elections favor a two-party majority, the Republicans can still exist despite their growing minority status.

Except they can't persist this way, either. At some point - and it's coming no matter how much the Republicans try to cheat now - the GOP will fall into minority status in enough battleground states to where no amount of gerrymandering or voter suppression can save them. More states are set to turn Democratic Blue, maybe not this 2022 or even 2024, but it's coming, and when it does they will lose their political power nationwide.

This is when it will get scary. Having talked themselves into the false belief that only Republicans should rule, they are likely to convince themselves they have nothing else left to lose and will seek ruin for us all instead...