Friday, December 31, 2021

Year 2021 As Tragedy And Farce

(Update: With many thanks to Driftglass for including this article at Crooks & Liars' Mike's Blog Round-Up! Please do me a favor and review my best articles of 2021 for submission to Florida Writers' Association's annual Royal Palm awards!)

As the year ends, today becomes a moment to look back and wonder at how we survived it at all.

(Christ. As I type this I just got word that Betty White passed away. FUCK YOU, 2021, DIE IN A FUCKING FIRE WILL YA)


The tragedy of the year stems from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, now rolling into its second year. Even with a vaccine program in place, even with all we know about how to fight COVID and how to reduce the risks... we're ending this year with a dangerously effective Omicron strain that's threatening to force shutdowns of workplaces and schools in spite of the Far Right forces obsessed to ignore the risks to stick to their own crazed Narrative.

The tragedy of 2021 got worse as donald trump - stinging from his Electoral losses in 2020 - refused to play by the rules of the Constitution and sent in mobs of insurrectionists into the halls of Congress to force that body from confirming the vote counts. For all the digging into the events of January 6th, we're barely seeing major arrests and serious punishments of the rioters and the culprits that we know so far who planned the whole attack.

If there'd been anything major going on all year long, it was the war of attrition between the madness of the Pandemic and the madness of trump's Big Lie. A lot of other crazy things happening in 2021 tended to tie into either ongoing crisis.

If there was any saving grace to this past year, it was how much of a farce the trumpian War On Reality could become.

The arguments trump forced his handlers to take - in arguing over stolen votes that were never stolen - led to those handlers and lawyers getting taken to the woodshed by judges who cut through every gaslighting lie they offered. These were lawyers who showed no sign of understanding the Constitution or election laws from beginning to end. The next sight we need to see of these inept lawyers should be them losing their license - like Giuliani - to practice law.

Everything coming out about how trump's inner circle coordinated and planned the January 6th Insurrection would be pure comedy if it didn't involve serious crimes. The very idea that they created a PowerPoint presentation to show trump how they planned it - and a sloppy PowerPoint at that - would be the crowning moment of funny whenever future Hollywood producers film the streaming miniseries about the riots.

As for the efforts in 2021 to fight the Pandemic, trump's early drum beats to push an anti-vax agenda to humiliate Biden and keep the nation in chaos led to the growing realization that trump's actions were literally killing off their own Far Right voting base... forcing trump's more recent calls to vaccinate falling on deaf - even hostile - ears.

Both nightmare and comedy at the same time in the same crises.

No wonder 2021 feels like a bad dream refusing to end.

Gods help us in 2022. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Breaking: Justice For a Moment For Abused Young Women, But More MUST Be Done to Serve Justice Forever

Was going to write something else, but this news broke while I was stuck at the train crossing on State Rd 60 earlier this evening. Socialite Sex Trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell found guilty by jury on five counts (via Jasmine Garsd and Vanessa Romo at NPR):

A federal jury deliberated for five full days before finding Maxwell guilty on five of the six counts she faced, including the sex trafficking of a minor. The 60-year-old was acquitted of enticing a minor to travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity. Epstein, a convicted sex offender, died in 2019 while in a Manhattan correctional facility.

Throughout the trial, jurors heard from four women who accused Maxwell of luring them into Epstein's lavish homes to have sex with him and other powerful men. Over three weeks, the women described how Maxwell, who dated Epstein in the 1990s, presented herself as a friendly older sister, earning their trust with gifts and shopping sprees. Two of the women testified they were 14 years old when Maxwell coaxed them into engaging in sexual acts with Epstein. One woman testified that Maxwell was present and even participated in some of the encounters...

Epstein, as noted earlier, died under questionable circumstances back in 2019 when the legal system re-opened cases they found out were illegally pled out against the wishes of Epstein's victims back in 2007. Between them, Maxwell and Epstein had ties to multiple political and business figures who were alleged - then and also in this trial - to have sex with these underage girls as trade-off for business deals and favors that Epstein would exploit. Back to the article: 

It's a case that has captured international attention and sparked countless conspiracy theories. And there's plenty of fodder: Maxwell and Epstein, who were a couple in the 1990s and early 2000s, surrounded themselves with wealthy and powerful men, including Bill Gates and Bill Clinton.

Over the past few years, a steady stream of women have accused Maxwell and Epstein of abusing them when they were underage. Some have also said the couple forced them to perform sex acts on famous men such as Prince Andrew and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Both deny these accusations...

These men can deny all they want, but the evidence is all there, and this jury saw enough of it to convict Maxwell of sex trafficking to these men of power. And they were named in this trial: One witness mentioned meeting donald trump back in the 1990s, another witness - one of Epstein's pilots - detailed a veritable list of Who's Who traveling to Epstein's residences where a lot of the sexual abuse took place.

At some point, all of these sins connect to each other.

Maxwell's conviction is a good day for justice in defense of many women and girls who are sexually abused and raped by those in power, but it dare not end here.

This conviction is meaningless if the prosecutors fail to go after the men of wealth and power who profited from Epstein and Maxwell's actions, who abused these young women for their own perversions. They had enough evidence to prove Maxwell was working much like a madam/pimp, recruiting teen girls and molding them into playthings.

There's already a lawsuit filed against ol' Randy Andy that's due to get a hearing next week. There ought to be more of them, if there is to be any true justice in this world.

If men of power like Clinton and trump and Gates - and even those not connected to Epstein like Matt Gaetz and Roy Moore and a thousand others across the spectrum - are allowed to walk away from this scandal untouched, it will merely grant them the ability to find the next wannabe pimp willing to recruit and farm out young girls for abuse and rape and worse.

If there's evidence Bill Clinton had sex with any of these women when they were teenagers, charge him. If Bill Gates did, charge him. If donald trump did, charge him. If Prince Andrew did, charge him. If there's evidence Alan Dershowitz got more than the massage he claimed he got, charge him.

Going after the Pimps is one thing. Going after the Johns is where the justice matters.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Anniversary: End of the Soviet Union

It's an event from 30 years ago that signaled a major tidal shift in the long river of history. On this Christmas Day back in 1991, the leader of the Soviet Union - ye olde USSR, the stronghold of Communism since World War I, the scourge of Capitalist Western Values, shaky ally against the Nazis in World War II, the superpower rival to the United States since 1945 - Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from his office as President and ended the Soviet Union once and for all.

Via Vladimir Isachenkov at AP News:

People strolling across Moscow’s snowy Red Square on the evening of Dec. 25, 1991 were surprised to witness one of the 20th century’s most pivotal moments — the Soviet red flag over the Kremlin pulled down and replaced with the Russian Federation’s tricolor.

Just minutes earlier, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation in a live televised address to the nation, concluding 74 years of Soviet history.

In his memoirs, Gorbachev, now 90, bitterly lamented his failure to prevent the USSR’s demise, an event that upset the world’s balance of power and sowed the seeds of an ongoing tug-of-war between Russia and neighboring Ukraine.

“I still regret that I failed to bring the ship under my command to calm waters, failed to complete reforming the country,” Gorbachev wrote.

Political experts argue to this day whether he could have held onto his position and saved the USSR. Some charge that Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985, could have prevented the Soviet breakup if he had moved more resolutely to modernize the anemic state-controlled economy while keeping tighter controls on the political system...

Thing was, Gorbachev really couldn't: No one outside of a full-on autocrat could have forced through the economic reforms because the political corruption and economic corruption were too intertwined. Just look at today: Putin has the political power but does so through economic corruption which is sapping at modern Russia's strength. An autocrat in Gorbachev's situation wouldn't have made any attempts at reform in the first place, he'd have kept the stagnant system chugging along.

It would take a book - no, a library full of books - to go into how the Communist Utopian ideals of the 19th Century gave way to the revolutionary violence of Lenin's overthrow of Tsarist Russia, and the steps towards corruption - the rise of Party elites, the rise of Stalin to place all power into autocratic rule, the buildup of party bureaucracy that calcified Soviet society, the Greed of elites that always threatens every economic system we know, and everyday state-sanctioned brutality that dulled the Russian population into despair - that created by the 1980s a Soviet empire incapable of maintaining itself without serious reforms.

With respect to Gorbachev, it was that need for reform that led to his rise to high office in the first place. Problem was, the reforms that were needed most - honesty from leadership, cracking down on party corruption, curtailing the high costs of maintaining a war footing in a 40-year-long Cold War that included policing their own Eastern European "allies" (occupied territories, really) - were reforms that Gorbachev's own party couldn't abide.

During all of Gorbachev's early steps to fix a broken empire, the Soviet Union was hit hard by the reality of their own corruption causing for example the meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor, exposing not only their engineering failures but their political failures to respond effectively to crises. The empire itself came to an end when Gorbachev freed the Eastern European nations to decide their own policies to enact local reforms: Instead, nearly every nation from Poland to Bulgaria to Czechoslovakia to Hungary to East Germany broke off from Soviet influence as their Communist regimes collapsed with mass uprisings and protests overthrowing them (Only Romania fell through mass violence and bloodshed, alas). By November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and Communism as an economic utopian ideal fell with it.

Whatever ideology Gorbachev was trying to use to keep the Soviet Union itself intact wasn't sticking. The push for Glasnost - open transparency of the political bureaucracy - and Perestroika - economic reforms to shift away from Communism to a more Socialist model - met with pushback by lower rungs of the system that preferred the corrupt status quo. Any economic reforms implemented failed with supply shortages and mismanagement.

By 1991, resistance to reform led to rebellion by a faction of Community Party leaders who wanted to go back to the way things were under Stalin Khrushchev Brezhnev. In August - responding to Gorbachev's plan to decentralize power to the 15 Soviet states that made up the USSR - that faction staged a coup attempt by "arresting Gorbachev" and passing power to Gorbachev's VP Gennady Yanayev, with the faction becoming a "Committee" overseeing the "state of emergency" they themselves were staging.

In the bleak style of Russian humor, they failed. Nothing they did went right. It was like the coup plotters believed that all they had to do was capture Gorbachev, go on state television to announce a calm transfer of power, and the majority of the population would just roll over like always.

Except too much had changed by then. In the Machiavellian measurement of "being Loved or Feared," the old Soviet hacks thought they were still Feared. But decades of party corruption had turned much of that fear into Hatred, and the Russian population - along with the other ethnicities that made up the USSR - had seen enough out of the Soviets to rise up in protests against the coup.

Helped by the fact that Gorbachev's decentralization plan would have empowered them, the regional leadership - especially Boris Yeltsin, a political rival of Gorbachev - called for the protests and avoided arrest. Attempts by the coup to shut down radio stations failed. When they called in troops to establish control of Moscow, the brief skirmish left three protestors dead and only enraged the mobs more. There was this quiet realization that the plotters hadn't thought this through, and hadn't counted on escalating any crackdowns.

Whereas Stalin wouldn't have hesitated to send in tanks and let his secret police round up everyone for executions, Yanayev and his bunch couldn't work up the nerve. Which was a good thing for the protestors and for history in general. Without that threat of violence to back them, the plotters turned on each other (several committed suicide) and were arrested themselves.

It was Soviet Communism's last dying gasp.

From then on, Yeltsin held the upper hand over Gorbachev, who no longer had a Soviet state or Communist party he could control. The decentralization plan went through, creating a Commonwealth of Independent States by early December with Russia itself a federation. By then, Gorbachev's departure wasn't a matter of If it was a matter of When, and Christmas seemed like the best time to do it.

Thirty years later, we're still dealing with the ramifications.

Russia as its own state is still a major global player: A permanent stock of nuclear weapons will do that for a nation. In terms of economic power, it's actually slid out of the top bracket - nations like Brazil and India generate more GNP - and they're still struggling to regain any foothold there. 

The corruption that led to the end of the Soviet Union never went away. The kleptocracy that defined the Communist Party re-emerged with the oligarchy - and organized crime - that controls Russia today. Putin's authoritarian power flows from the greed of the national elites, each side feeding off the other to keep Russia broke, stagnant, and hungry to steal from every other nation around them.

In some respects, the threat was never Communism, nor was it Capitalism. It's Greed. A universally recognized human sin that caused the collapse of one empire (USSR), consumed its remnants (Russia), and threatens our American empire here.

I'd wish that was the lesson from history the rest of us could have learned.

Friday, December 24, 2021

COVID Fatigue At the End of 2021

So here we all are as a planet, rushing out of 2021 headlong in 2022 with the slow realization that this latest COVID-19 variant called "Omicron" - why yes, it COULD be a Transformers villain - is rampaging across humanity as the most virulent and infectious variant yet.

And the collective response of at least the American population is "What the hell, now? On the holidays??? Let me at least fly home next to 180 maskless passengers on this plane so I can see my relatives before we all turn up positive for COVID."

Yup. That's where we're at.

It's been more than two years now - if you date the outbreak back to November 2019, at least back to March 2020 when even trump couldn't ignore it anymore - that the entire planet has been coping with this lethal virus and we honestly can't keep up with it, if we ever did.

The isolation / cabin fever of lockdowns early on - combined with the overwhelming over-reliance on social media (Hi, Twitter!) that numbed our common sense - generated what could be best described as "COVID Fatigue," this jaded ennui of losing a certain amount of empathy or concern for self-care and the care of others. 

As a set of vaccines showed up that could combat the spread of the pandemic, a lot of people took that to mean they could get the shots and become fully protected even though what the vaccines DID were to slow the transmissions and reduce the more lethal side-effects - like shredding your lungs and hearts - to prevent more death. It's still not really safe to go about unmasked even if you are vaxxed.

It did not help matters that a sizable chunk of our humanity is made up of contrarian nay-sayers, people like anti-vaccinators who think every scientific medical treatment is a lie or a scam - or in some cases, a Biblical prophecy to Mark us all for the Beast - and would prefer to treat themselves to "holistic" or wholly implausible "natural" cures that did more harm than good. The efforts by Fox Not-News and other Far Right outlets alongside a number of Republican governors like Florida's DeSantis fighting CDC guidelines and federal vaccination mandates - pushed by a Republican party leadership that wants the pandemic to continue under Biden's administration so they could blame HIM for the hundreds of thousands dead and dying - have only added to that contrarian reality where too many of our neighbors and family members are still unvaccinated and fully vulnerable to a lethal fast-spreading disease.

This latest flareup - the Omicron variant that's proven to transmit faster than previous COVID versions, and those were already quick - is just happening to occur during the part of the year in America that happens to involve our busiest family-oriented holidays: Thanksgiving through Christmas/ Hanukkah/ Saturnalia/ Kwanzaa/ New Years. Given how nearly everyone gave up those holidays for 2020 - as the vaccines had yet to clear safety protocols - it is looking like too much to ask for everyone to give those days up again for 2021.

So here we all go, driving off to visit with the folks or the kids/grandkids, traveling to exotic locales for the holidays and New Year's Eve, easily carrying viruses with us that won't show any symptoms until it's too late, and a lot of us refusing to mask up even as we mingle among the thousands of us who haven't gotten vaccinated to prevent further spread.

And count me among those people who selfishly went out in public just as the Omicron numbers are multiplying faster than they ever did with Delta.

My twin brother, like myself, attended University of Florida (Go Gators). Unlike myself, he could afford season tickets to home games, which qualified him to a good deal on bowl game tickets to Tampa's Gasparilla Bowl this year hosting UF playing against University of Central Florida (where his son, my nephew, attends right now). So there was a family reason - I received the invite, thank you Brother Phil - to pack into Raymond James stadium with 60,000 other sports fans of both schools Thursday night to see which in-state school program could beat the other's (DAMMIT GATORS YOU HAD ONE JOB! /cries).

I had gone to a comic con this past November, but it was to a small, city-level event with maybe a couple hundred people. It was also before the Omicron variant was out there and when the Delta variant seemed to have burned itself out. I still dreaded it, and took enough precautions to avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing, and I masked whenever I could.

I used to be a heavy movie goer, attending a new film release - or occasionally rehashing a film I liked - nearly every weekend right up until February 2020 - last movie I saw in the theaters was "Harley Quinn/Birds of Prey" how that's for a trivia answer - and one of the things I hoped to do after getting the vaccine shots was going back to the theaters. Except I haven't. Even as the blockbuster movies I want to see - Black Widow, Shang Chi, Eternals, Godzilla vs Kong, The Suicide Squad - on the big screen came and went, I could not work up the nerve to go to see a single one of them. The latest Spider-Man movie, MAYBE I might go see that while it's out now, but I still cannot bring myself to risk going to a crowded, cramped theater. 

The bowl game last night, I took the risk, and I am so regretting it. Last night was different. Multiplying-the-attendees-into-tens-of-thousands different. Granted, much of the game-watching is spent outdoors where the spread of COVID is less likely to happen, you're still in a situation where there's NO social distancing available and a high risk of being too close to an asymptomatic person long enough to get exposed. It was like being in twenty movie theaters at the same time, and I dreaded hearing anybody coughing to spike my paranoia any higher.

The good news, I've been vaccinated and boosted. I also took a mask with me and wore it as often as possible (only taking it off to eat a hot dog and drink bottled water).

Bad news is, I might have been the only one at that game who stayed masked for much of the night. Maybe one other guy was masked in our seating section, but nearly everyone else I walked past getting in and out of the stadium - other than vendors and staff (and NOT security!) - went without a mask. Even my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew only wore their masks heading into the game: Once it started and after it ended, they went unmasked.

Yes, I am that paranoid about mask-wearing anymore. Working in a public library will do that to you during a pandemic.

That's how bad it is right now with the Omicron variant bearing down on all of us. Too many of us uncaring, unworried with the responsibility of doing even the bare minimum of protecting ourselves and others against a virus because those minimums - wearing a mask over our faces - has become too much a burden.

We all need - myself included - to be more careful during this winter as COVID flares back up again. At least mandating wearing masks in public. Lockdowns would help but too many Red States will fight those again as economy-killing, and given the holidays situation we won't see any move on THAT until after January 2nd.

So here we are, waiting for COVID to get worse again.

Gods help us.

Stay healthy.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

And So Manchin Burns the Nation

I've said this before: There is nothing more dangerous and destructive to the United States than a self-serving arrogant tone-deaf Senator.

Yes. This means Senator Joe Manchin out of West Virginia just shot his own Democratic Party in the collective foot again. From Russell Berman at The Atlantic (paywall): 

With a few short sentences on Fox News, Senator Joe Manchin today dashed the dreams of Democrats by coming out firmly against President Joe Biden’s signature legislative proposal. “I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said of the $1.75 trillion bill that the House passed last month.

His opposition after months of negotiations adds to a hellish winter that followed a brutal autumn for Biden, who is presiding over yet another resurgence of the pandemic, stubbornly high inflation, and an electorate that has soured on him. Now, Manchin has seemingly demolished the centerpiece of the president’s economic agenda in Congress, validating the warnings of progressives who for months held up the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill because they feared the West Virginia centrist—who, in a 50-50 Senate, essentially wields a veto pen among Democrats—would do exactly what he did...

Anyone wanting to blame Progressives in this fight ought to punch themselves in their own faces. The Far Left held up their end of the bargain only to have Manchin - posing as a Centrist but in reality he's a crass opportunist hiding his personal greed behind the excuse of bipartisanship - pull his card out of the castle to let it all tumble down.

I'm a self-proclaimed Moderate (not a Centrist) and even I can't understand why Manchin is pulling these stunts other than to keep his own pockets lined with lobbyist cash while his own state of West Virginia slides deeper into poverty.

I have to refer to West Virginia resident John Cole at Balloon-Juice, who has long seen Manchin up-close in action and has loathed the corrupt Senator's behavior for years:

Yes, Manchin knocked bunch a bunch of beers on his houseboat last night, woke up this morning and drove his Maserati to the tv studios, and opened his piehole. It’s more of the bad faith bullshit, and I don’t know how much of it he will walk back or if he even will, or he is just setting the stage for his colleagues and the WH to shit on him so he can peace out and join the Republicans or go Independent. I don’t know, and I don’t really care any more, the man is dead to me...

I don’t know why this is so hard for Joe to explain. I’d think it would be pretty easy to explain extending the child tax credit, black lung benefits, lowering prescription drug prices, expanding medicare, providing home health care for the elderly, and so on to West Virginians. Especially considering that West Virginians are some of the poorest, sickest, and oldest Americans, as well as having a large community of miners with black lung...

The only ones profiting from Manchin's stubbornness has been Mitch McConnell and his fellow upper-class warriors of the Republican ranks. They're reveling in the self-immolation between Democrats all the while making sure that our nation never does ANYTHING to address poverty, hunger, suffering of families, and reconnecting millions to the American Dream of good jobs, safe communities, and a future for our children. And they don't even have to lift a finger: Manchin is doing all of the dirty work for them.

There is still a chance the Democrats will go back and repackage the major parts of Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda, and still a chance they could pass something short-term to placate the likes of Manchin, but I doubt it. Manchin is strutting here like a god-emperor Corrupt Senator of the Gilded Age, unconcerned with the damage he leaves in his wake while heading to his expensive racecar en route to his personal yacht.

Gods help us. This is how we're rolling into 2022.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

All I Want for Saturnalia 2021

'Tis the season for wishes and hopes as the winter solstice brings 2021 to a close.

And I look out upon this world with all this going on:

And I just wanna wish the Roman God Saturn for a simple little thing:


I wanna wish for a safe and safe Saturnalia to come true just for once, can't we all agree to that, someday...? 

Friday, December 10, 2021

A Terrifying Brush With Tragedy This Week

I woke up to this news and it terrified me.

We almost had yet another college mass shooting event, this time the threat was at Embry-Riddle in Daytona (via Claire Metz at WESH Orlando): 

John Hagins was arrested at his off campus apartment Thursday after two other students alerted authorities of the suspect's alleged threatening statements.

Officials have no doubt classmates of 19-year-old Hagins, an aeronautical science student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, averted tragedy Thursday, the last day of classes before winter break.

According to the arrest report, last week Hagins began talking excessively about purchasing a gun and the gun being able to fold so it could fit inside of his backpack to take to the school...

Hagins also allegedly told the student witness he would purchase a silencer so he would be able to shoot inside the school library...

"He referenced Columbine," Daytona Beach police Chief Jakari Young said. "He said once he was done at the firing range he was going to campus to enact a Columbine.

Hagins is charged with terrorism, written threats to injure or kill and attempted murder...

Some of the photos and video clips show the wanna-be gunman packed extra clips to ensure as many targets hit as possible.

And when I say targets I mean "students, professors, campus staff, and anybody else that would satisfy his bloodlust."

And when I say this news terrifies me, more than any other recent gun-related nightmare our nation has witnessed during my whole lifetime, I mean this one hits me close to home.

I have a nephew attending Embry-Riddle in Daytona right now.

Do you hear that, gun nuts? Did I stutter, National Rifle Body Count Association?

One of YOUR fucking "lone wolf" shooters was about to kill or wound a family member.




These mass shooters, these gun nuts going off in our schools and our malls and our churches, THOSE MURDERERS ARE COMING FROM YOUR WORLD, YOUR CULTURE, YOUR OBSESSIONS AND OUTRIGHT WORSHIP OF THE GUN. We didn't ask for these rifle-toting sociopaths but YOU ALL keep insisting they have their chances to KILL the rest of us.

This would have bloodied my family.




Thursday, December 09, 2021

Quick Question to the Nine Readers of This Blog: It's Jon Swift Roundup Time!

Batocchio has sent out the call for the annual blogging highlights, and I would like to ask the readers of this blog out of all the crazy stuff I've written this 2021, which one should I present as the best of the brat?

I'm kind of leaning towards the Irrational article, although the articles about the tragedy of Surfside has its points to make, and the Fall of Afghanistan has a lot to say about the failures of our nation after 9/11.

Please do me a favor and help get this in by Saturday December 11th, thank ye. You can leave a comment below or if you hate the comments setup you can tweet me @PaulWartenberg or yell at me on Facebook.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

DeSantis and His Minute Men Militia

It's been pretty obvious since trump's fall after the 2020 election results that some of the more ambitious Republicans are positioning themselves to run in 2024 (hoping that trump - who still rules the GOP voting base - will be sidelined with court trials and prison time).

The worst of the lot is my own state's governor, Ron "Let COVID Kill You" DeSantis, whose pandering to the Fox Not-News audiences is starting to exceed the trump himself. DeSantis has been eagerly playing to the anti-vaxxer crowds - hiring every cop or firefighter or city worker who quit their jobs in places mandating vaccines, for example - and demonstrating all of the virulent hatred that trump deployed but with more political savvy.

Which brings us to his latest political move, one that should be setting off every alarm in the system: DeSantis wants his own damn army. Via Steve Contorno at CNN:

DeSantis pitched the idea Thursday as a way to further support the Florida National Guard during emergencies, like hurricanes. The Florida National Guard has also played a vital role during the pandemic in administering Covid-19 tests and distributing vaccines.

But in a nod to the growing tension between Republican states and the Biden administration over the National Guard, DeSantis also said this unit, called the Florida State Guard, would be "not encumbered by the federal government." He said this force would give him "the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible." DeSantis is proposing bringing it back with a volunteer force of 200 civilians, and he is seeking $3.5 million from the state legislature in startup costs to train and equip them.

States have the power to create defense forces separate from the national guard, though not all of them use it. If Florida moves ahead with DeSantis' plan to reestablish the civilian force, it would become the 23rd active state guard in the country, DeSantis' office said in a press release, joining California, Texas and New York. These guards are little-known auxiliary forces with origins dating back to the advent of state militias in the 18th century. While states and the Department of Defense share control of the National Guard, state guards are solely in the power of a governor.

The proposal from DeSantis comes on the heels of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's directive warning that National Guard members who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus will have their pay withheld and barred from training. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, had requested an exemption for guard members in his state, which Austin denied...

I can immediately point out a flaw in DeSantis' reasoning: If he wants to supplement the state's standing National Guard, he could just simply recruit more volunteers to the Guard. He's playing this as wanting to forge a home guard that won't be encumbered by federal vaccination rules, but he could play obstructionist over the pandemic without this kind of power grab. He wants something more, which begs the question:

Q: Why the hell else create a free-standing military unit answerable only to him? 

A: Because it'll answer to him and not to the United States' military chain of command that the National Guard has to answer to. This is DeSantis' chance to make himself into a wannabe field general with his own tin soldiers - brought in without any outside review or oversight, meaning they could be the Goddamn KKK for all we know - to do his dirty work.

Ja'Han Jones at MSNBC has his concerns, mainly that DeSantis can't be trusted:

States technically have the power to establish defense forces that are independent from the National Guard, and 22 states currently do. That’s an issue worth discussing and debating, but the most pressing issue right now is that the right-wing governor of Florida can’t be trusted with a military force of his own. 

DeSantis said re-establishing the state guard would “make sure that we have the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.”

“Some of that will require us to be able to have access and use support in ways that are not encumbered by the federal government, that don’t require the federal government,” he added. 

Don’t let that hodgepodge of political jargon fool you: There’s no reason whatsoever to believe Ron DeSantis would use his army of militarized volunteers to do anything but wreak havoc on vulnerable people.

This is the same person who hastily deployed the Florida National Guard to patrol anti-racist protesters demonstrating in response to George Floyd’s murder last year. This is the person who championed an “anti-riot” law struck down by a federal judge this year after plaintiffs claimed it was “designed to target those who protest police violence...”

Jones doesn't mention it but DeSantis has been waging a war against his media and pandemic critics, a fight that can easily escalate if he's got 200 Minute Men Brown Shirts Florida Men at his beck and call with the power to detain people and use firearms with little or no provocation from others.

Because abuse of power like this happens. We've seen it repeatedly under trump and other bullies in office.

This is straight out of the playbook used by the fascist villains of Upton Sinclair's It Can't Happen Here. Christ. We're replaying the same goddamn nightmare of having trump in the White House calling on his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to "Stand Back and Stand By," which we saw come to fruition during the January 6th Insurrection to subvert the 2020 election results.

What DeSantis is doing here can well be replicated by other Republican governors across the nation, and the ones who already have a state-controlled militia to start thinking about how they can turn those troops into their own personal praetorian guards. They can turn these militias into private police rounding up and harassing anybody opposed to the party in any way, from public stances over abortion and police brutality all the way down to refusing to wear those damn MAGA hats.

Think I'm joking? Think back to all the sh-t happening for COINTELPRO... and that was illegal. What's being asked here will be legal, governor-seal-of-approval, all out in the open (just not broadcast on Fox Not-News for public consumption) and nobody will be able to challenge it until too much damage and suffering has happened.  

It can happen here, and it's escalating.

Gods help us.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Oakland High Shooting: Red Flags Everywhere

"He said Bro. Red flag."
- unnamed student surviving the Oakland High shooting, before classroom flees from the possible shooter. It turned out that was a sheriff's deputy looking to evacuate the room, who chose a poor time to use 'hep slang'. Watch that video. Nearly every student freaked when he said 'Bro'.

It's not even a joke in this pandemic reality that the United States' "return to normalcy" for 2021 included the return of mass shootings

We've gotten so blase about gun violence at our schools that no major media outlet noticed until this week we're up to our 28th school shooting and our 641st mass shooting for the year. And we've still got December to go.

What made the Oakland High shooting in Michigan stand out were the circumstances that led to that fateful Tuesday November 30. A series of decisions and actions that should have raised concern and triggered a secure response that kept getting ignored or overruled.

A timeline should help highlight what went wrong (via Becky Sullivan at NPR):

The 9 mm Sig Sauer SP2022 pistol used in Tuesday's shooting at the high school in Oxford township, a small community north of Detroit, was purchased by James Crumbley at a local gun shop, authorities said. His son, Ethan Crumbley, was with him at the time of the purchase, they said.

Jennifer Crumbley referred to the gun as their son's "new Christmas present" in a social media post, McDonald said during Friday's news conference. She added that the gun was stored unlocked in a drawer in the parents' bedroom.

The day before the shooting, an Oxford High School teacher reported Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore at the school, after the teacher spotted him using his phone to search for ammunition, the prosecutor said.

School officials left a voicemail and email for Jennifer Crumbley, who did not respond, according to McDonald. But Crumbley sent a text message to her son that said, "LOL I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."

Then, on the morning of the shooting, the prosecutor said, Ethan Crumbley's teacher found a drawing on Ethan Crumbley's desk of a handgun, bullet and shooting victim, with the words "blood everywhere" and "the thoughts won't stop, help me."

Disturbed, the teacher informed school authorities, who called both James and Jennifer Crumbley to the school; they were told they would be required to seek counseling for their son.

"Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask if their son had his gun with him or where his gun was located, and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun, which he had with him," McDonald said.

The parents "resisted the idea" of Ethan Crumbley leaving school at that time, McDonald said. Afterward, Crumbley returned to class. Just before 1 p.m., he entered a bathroom wearing a backpack, then came out with the pistol in his hand and began shooting, authorities have said...

At every single point where the parents made the situation worse, I noticed myself shaking my head and muttering "Jesus Christ..."

Just the idea that his parents thought a handgun would make a nice Christmas present for their teenage son is a serious red flag to me. Until I saw someone point out on social media that on Black Friday - the high holy Consumer Day of holiday shopping - there were around 187,000 legal firearms purchases. Historically, Black Friday seems to be a great time (sarcasm mode) to stock up on murder weapons.

Guns?! FOR CHRISTMAS?! In religious terms, a day honoring the birth of one of humanity's greatest seekers of Peace and Hope for all??? In secular terms, a day for family and friends and ugly sweaters snuggled in against the cold winter outside (Northern Hemisphere only, Southern Hemisphere gets beach trips and sand castles)??? /headdesk

Back to the timeline, where the parents' behavior towards each growing alarm about their son's openness at school about pursuing - obsessing over - guns, ammo, and acts of violence kept ignoring his deteriorating mental state. When the mother texted "LOL don't get caught" that should have been a moment for herself to wake up and realize "Wait, he's getting caught at school obsessing over guns maybe we need to calm him down." Christ, she thought it was funny. I wonder how her reaction would have been if Ethan was caught scanning PornHub videos at school instead of the Guns & Ammo shopping page.

One thing bothering me - and probably haunting the school officials from now until forever - is the point where the school authorities had both parents and Ethan in the office, why the hell didn't they inspect Ethan's bookbag then? I thought the schools had exemptions to search students' belongings if they could show cause for others' safety.

Then again, the parents would have likely thrown a major conniption. Given what we know now - with the report that Crumbley's mother wrote a letter praising donald trump for his Second Amendment support along with rants against illegal immigrants threatening her livelihood as a realtor - any attempt in that principal's office to see if Ethan was packing a gun would have led to lawsuits or a physical altercation. The rights of the privileged gun nuts - usually upper income, usually White, always paranoid and aggressive - will always outrank all other rights in this NRA Utopian America.

Instead, there were no altercations, just the Crumbleys insisting that Ethan remain in school, giving him one more opportunity to show off that Christmas gift to the world.

Even then, it looked like the parents were abandoning their own son to his demons, his rage, his fate.

The only time either parent expressed any concern was after the shooting started, when Jennifer Crumbley sent a cover-your-ass text message "don't do it." By then it was already too late. James Crumbley reported the gun "stolen" from his house, but by then law enforcement had a pretty good idea James allowed Ethan full access to "his Christmas gift".

All of this damage done, four teens killed, more wounded, all because one family worshipped the gun more than they worshipped the Christmas Spirit.

All of this leading up to one of the more interesting twists in our nation's ongoing gun violence crisis. For the first time in recent memory, the parents of the school shooter are facing manslaughter charges. As mentioned in Becky Sullivan's NPR article, this is a rare move indeed:

"These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences," (Oakland County Prosecutor) Karen McDonald said...

The involuntary manslaughter charges for the suspect's parents are highly unusual for a school shooting. But Michigan's criminal code does not give prosecutors more straightforward options: The state is not among those with laws that specifically target children's access to guns, nor does it have a negligent gun storage statute, according to the Giffords Law Center, a research group that advocates for gun control laws.

The Oakland County prosecutor advocated for strengthening the state's gun laws at her news conferences this week, calling the laws "woefully inadequate."

In addition to the rare step of charging the shooter's parents, prosecutors' decision to charge the younger Crumbley with terrorism is unusual in Michigan. The criminal complaint accuses Crumbley of "intending to intimidate or coerce" the high school community.

"What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now, who can't eat and can't sleep and can't imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school? Those are victims too, and so are their families and so is the community," McDonald said at a news conference Wednesday. "The charge of terrorism reflects that..."

Given McDonald's enthusiasm to pursue more serious charges, I doubt that terrorism charge will stick. The Nation Rifle Body Count Association is sure to step up to file a complaint, arguing that gun ownership isn't an act of intimidation or threat, trying to protect their fellow gun-worshipping fanbase from any similar charges brought against them when they open-carry everywhere.

But the charges against the parents should be a welcome change to see about reducing the risks of guns in our schools. Far too many times, the absence or abandonment of any parental figure working to keep their kids away from guns has led to those school shooters getting their hands on those murder weapons. A number of times, those shooters were coming from a home where parents pushed those guns onto them, teaching them a mindset that those weapons were everyday common, simple to use, and that those things gave them power over everyone else.

No more. I hate to break it to the parents, but dammit you got to teach your children the dangers of firearms and the risks they carry. Of all the red flags parents are supposed to keep an eye out for - drug use, sexual harassment or assault, bullying (either as victim or perp), petty theft, vandalism, listening to bad Country music, other troubling signs of teen behavior - the likelihood of gun violence ought to top the Parenting To Do list.

If we can hold parents accountable for their guns, if we as a nation can start getting into those parents' heads that they have to treat their guns with better personal security, if we can make these gun nuts realize they DON'T have to treat firearms like Christmas toys...