Archive for the ‘Evil’ category

“These New Assets”

August 19, 2015

You would think that if anything were beyond the pale, even for today’s GOP and its conservative base, it would be chattel slavery.

Seriously.  If there were any thought that ought to be simply unthinkable in twenty first century, America, it would be that it is not simply illegal but actually evil to turn another human being into property.  I seem to recall there was something of a disturbance that ended 150 years ago on this matter, and it did not end well for those who lived on stolen labor.

But it turns out that my failure to imagine a comeback for slavery merely reveals my inability to keep up with an American right that seems determined to abandon the last thread of sanity.  From Media Matters via Charles Johnson at LGF, meet actual Iowa conservative talk radio host Jan Michelson:

I would just say this: … ’30 to 60 days from now anyone who is in the state of Iowa that who is not here legally and who cannot demonstrate their legal status to the satisfaction of the local and state authorities here in the State of Iowa, become property of the State of Iowa.’ So if you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you’re still here, and we find that you’re still here after we we’ve given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the State of Iowa. And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability and we start inventing jobs for them to do.


This was not a slip of the tongue:

CALLER: Well I think everybody would believe it sounds like slavery?

MICKELSON: Well, what’s wrong with slavery?

MICKELSON: No this is pretty simple, actually this is very simple, what my solution is moral and it’s legal. And I can’t think – and it’s also politically doable.

CALLER: So are you going to house all these people who have chosen to be indentured?

MICKELSON: Yes, yes, absolutely in a minimal fashion. We would take a lesson from Sheriff [Joe] Arpaio down in Arizona. Put up a tent village, we feed and water these new assets, we give them minimal shelter, minimal nutrition, and offer them the opportunity to work for the benefit of the taxpayers of the state of Iowa. All they have to do to avoid servitude is to leave.


MICKELSON: You think I’m just pulling your leg. I am not….

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  your modern Republican party.  Somewhere, Abraham Lincoln is weeping.

Image: Damiano Mascagni, Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers1602.

March 17, 2015

Via The New York Times an essential article on the ways Big Finance screws serving troops — and the rest of us:

Charles Beard, a sergeant in the Army National Guard, says he was on duty in the Iraqi city of Tikrit when men came to his California home to repossess the family car. Unless his wife handed over the keys, she would go to jail, they said.

The men took the car, even though federal law requires lenders to obtain court orders before seizing the vehicles of active duty service members.

Sergeant Beard had no redress in court: His lawsuit against the auto lender was thrown out because of a clause in his contract that forced any dispute into mandatory arbitration, a private system for resolving complaints where the courtroom rules of evidence do not apply. In the cloistered legal universe of mandatory arbitration, the companies sometimes pick the arbiters, and the results, which cannot be appealed, are almost never made public….

The kicker in that already insufferable situation:

Over the years, Congress has given service members a number of protections — some dating to the Civil War — from repossessions and foreclosures.

Efforts to maintain that special status for service members has run into resistance from the financial industry, including many of the same banks that promote the work they do for veterans. While using mandatory arbitration, some companies repeatedly violate the federal protections, leaving troops and their families vulnerable to predatory lending, the military lawyers and government officials say….

…The Government Accountability Office, for example, found in 2012 that financial institutions had failed to abide by the law more than 15,000 times.

V0017699 A fortune-teller reading the palm of a soldier. Oil painting

Efforts in Congress to block financial companies’ efforts to weaken any vestige of legal protection met the subterranean death favored by the scumsuckers for whom light is poison:

Last year, a bipartisan bill that would have allowed service members to opt out of arbitration and file a lawsuit met with opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street’s major trade group, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma.

“While we remain very supportive of the troops, we see no empirical or other evidence that service members are being harmed by or require relief from arbitration clauses,” Kevin Carroll, a managing director and associate general counsel at Sifma, said in a statement.

Here’s what they mean by “support.”

In lobbying against the bill, several financial industry groups and a large phone company visited with the staff of Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who sponsored the legislation along with Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.

The trade groups told Mr. Graham’s office that they were already working to make their arbitration procedure more accommodating to service members, according to a person briefed on those discussions who would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

“The message was, ‘Let us fix this internally,’ ” the person said. “Don’t upset the apple cart with a new law.”

Whether or not that line was believed, the result was as desired:

The bill never made it out of committee last year, though Mr. Graham plans to reintroduce it this year.

Committees:  where money talks so effectively — and almost silently.

This at once an infuriating abuse of people doing what their political leaders have tasked them to do, at risk to themselves and costs to their families — and a sign of how bad the system is rigged against all of us.  Realize this:  serving troops at least have some legal protection that, however abused can still be invoked.  Everyone else:  suck it up, face mandatory arbitration, and say “Thank you, sir, may I have another” everytime we have to bend over and take one for the greater good of modern American financial capitalism.

Also: kudos to Senators Graham and Reed for making an attempt.  But let’s be clear:  Republicans — the party that claims the flag and the troops as their personal property — control both houses of Congress and have unfettered control of the agenda there.  So this is a test:  if they can’t fix this — now — then it’s incumbent on those of us on the other side to hang their betrayal of the troops around every member.

Image:  Pietro Muttoni called della Vecchia, A fortune-teller reading the palm of a soldier, before 1678.  I can’t help but thinking the fortune teller is telling the soldier that he sees the future, and the his client is f**ked.

Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

January 7, 2015

By now I’m assuming everyone’s heard about the dreadful attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebo:

Masked gunmen burst into the Paris offices of a French satirical newspaper on Wednesday and killed 12 people, including top journalists and two police officers, before fleeing in a car. The gunmen were still at large at dusk, as an extensive police dragnet spread across a traumatized city.

Among the dead were four prominent cartoonists who have repeatedly lampooned Islamic terrorists and the Prophet Muhammad, leading to speculation that the attack on the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was the work of Islamic militants acting alone or in concert with extremist groups.

The gunmen — reports suggest there were three — are still at large, and, according to Times coverage, it remains unknown what group, if any, organized the attack.

Salman Rushdie knows something about words and art and the threat of deadly violence aimed at suppressing it.  He’s one of many who have responded to the attack.  The statement was apparently up at PEN’s site, but that’s down now, and (via a Neil Gaiman tweet) I found it at the Wall St. Journal.  Here it is:

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”  –Salman Rushdie

Bad times, sad times.  My thoughts and deepest sympathy to all the families and friends of the murdered.

And I’ll Take Racist Media for $200, Alex

October 1, 2014

Alex:  What is the question that evokes the answer:  “A cartoon with a watermelon punchline referencing the President of the United States.”

We reply in chorus: “What was the racist garbage in the Boston Herald today?”

Again, this has been picked up in the comments, but it’s been making me crazy for a couple of reasons.  For the obvious one, I’m just going to outsource to Charles Pierce, who knows the Herald very well indeed:

 Let’s move along down my personal resume to The Boston Herald, where the current editors, whom I know well, today made me ashamed ever to have set foot in the place, let alone worked there for six years. They ran an editorial cartoon by someone named Jerry Holbert. In the cartoon…the White House intruder is in the bathtub while the president is brushing his teeth. The caption reads: “White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought.” This is what the cartoonist, Holbert, has the intruder saying from the tub.

“Have you tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste?”

Pierce notes the hollow contempt for those of us disgusted by this in the non-apology that followed our outcry, the assertion that there’s not a racist bone in Holbert’s body, that he was just referencing his own kids toothpaste, and that, wait for it….

…we didn’t mean to offend anyone.  Take it away, Charles:

Of course, it was not meant to offend anyone. That was just a bonus. What it was meant to do was to appeal to the base prejudices of the elderly white suburban demographic to which the Herald has been pitching itself for three decades. It is racist hooey pitched to fans of racist hooey. Period. And, like so many other things, it is different with this president. It is different because there are no rules.

I got the remnants of my day job to get back to, so I’m just going to touch on the most clueless bit of attempted contrarian justification for this bit of garbage, this, coming from Jonathan Chait:

I don’t think the joke hinges upon black people liking watermelon. I think the joke is about the Secret Service’s security failures. Obama himself is not even the subject of the joke — his perspective is that of, or close to, the reader’s. The point of the joke is that White House security is so lax that a random person could wander into the president’s living quarters undetected and take a bath, and regard this as so casual he could chat about a commonplace topic as toothpaste.

Glad that’s clear.

Black people liking watermelon is certainly not the main comic premise of the cartoon

Well, that’s alright then, dear, isn’t it?

and was probably not intended as a secondary premise, either.

And you know this, how? Because you’ve peered deeply into Holbart’s eyes?  You’ve seen into his soul?  You know him to be a good man?

The cartoonist, Jerry Holbert, explained that he came up with watermelon because he was thinking of his kids’ Colgate watermelon-flavor toothpaste.

My kids. Yeah. That’s it!

Possibly he made a subconscious connection between a black president and watermelon.

Because, of course that’s what anyone would do when contemplating the first African American president.

But it seems very doubtful this was his intent.




Two things:  1 — when an experienced reporter falls back on “seems” you know they got nuthin.  They’re telling you what the wish to be true, not what they know, or necessarily even think is likely.

and 2:  Chait should know better, but has tangled himself up around race before, so may not, but racism, like sexism, or anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry and dehumanization of the other, is not about what is in someone’s heart.  It’s not a question of essence, of identity, of who someone is.  It’s all about what one does and says.  Action in the world defines both the sin and the good deed.

In this world, as opposed into that swelling in Chait’s spotless mind’s eye, Holbert used one of the oldest caricturers with which slave-holders benefiting from stolen lives and labor sought to limn African Americans as simple, lazy and unoppressed by their oppression.  It’s an explicitly racist trope, and everyone who’s reached the age of reason (Holbert is my age to the year) knows it.

Turner Slave-ship

Holbert may be certain that he has not one prejudiced bone in his body, but what he or Chait thinks about intent or the “real” import of this cartoon is utterly irrelevant.

The cartoon speaks for itself, and its creator, and its defenders…to the shame I fear they will not feel.

J. M. W. Turner “Slave-ship”  1840

Not Even Trying To Hide It: Politico’s The President Must Die Edition

October 1, 2014

So, today we learn via  TPM* that a bottom feeder by the name of Ronald Kessler, writing at Politico, has nailed the real take-away from the Secret Service scandal:

Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama’s colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service. (h/t Commenter JPL at Balloon Juice)

Give him credit (sic).  With this, Kessler hits the daily double.  He blames President Obama for something no other — and for “other,” read, I’m afraid, white — President would be expected to do:  get involved in the day to day management of his protective detail.  And then Kessler adds that in imagining a fix for the problem, he regrets the necessity of the president’s death.


I’m gobsmacked. Completely.  On the one hand, there’s nothing new here.  It is just one more instance in the long-running guerrilla propaganda war to delegitimize and disempower a twice elected president.  Its impulse is profoundly anti-democratic, deeply committed to the control of government by any means available.  It’s part and parcel of the series of incidents large and small that run from heckling during a State of the Union (imagine the reaction if someone had done that to C+ Augustus!) to a claim that somehow this President mustn’t appoint anyone to be approved by the current sitting Senate.

And yet, this ain’t just the eternal return of the same.  You have here a writer openly near-predicting the murder of the first African American president; accusing him of the basic failures that make that murder likely, and consoling himself that after that murder, things may get better.  It’s as near to cheerleading an assassination as I can imagine, while steering just clear of an explicit call for that event.

In a civilized society, advertisers and readers would flee Politico as if it suffered from the combined effects of Ebola, the bubonic plague and rabies.  And they would spit on the sidewalk anytime Mr. Kessler dared show his face.  In this one…

*No link to Politico; no rewarding the sewage rakers.

Image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Death of Caesarbetw. 1859 and 1867.

Worst People In The World

December 13, 2013

For the life of me, I can’t see why we shouldn’t invoke the UN convention on genocide against Big Tobacco:

Tobacco companies are pushing back against a worldwide rise in antismoking laws, using a little-noticed legal strategy to delay or block regulation. The industry is warning countries that their tobacco laws violate an expanding web of trade and investment treaties, raising the prospect of costly, prolonged legal battles, health advocates and officials said.

Alarmed about rising smoking rates among young women, Namibia, in southern Africa, passed a tobacco control law in 2010 but quickly found itself bombarded with stern warnings from the tobacco industry that the new statute violated the country’s obligations under trade treaties.

“We have bundles and bundles of letters from them,” said Namibia’s health minister, Dr. Richard Kamwi.

Three years later, the government, fearful of a punishingly expensive legal battle, has yet to carry out a single major provision of the law, like limiting advertising or placing large health warnings on cigarette packaging.

I’m a little emotional on this issue, as my mother died ten days before my scheduled wedding day, murdered by RJ Reynolds.

But at least when Mom started smoking in the late 1930s/early 1940s, the explicit tobacco-cancer connection was still obscure, with the first case-control studies clearly linking cigarettes to cancer emerging in 1948 (per Siddhartha Mukherjee’s first rate The Emperor of all Maladies.  See especially the chapter titled “The Emperor’s Nylon Stockings”).  Her death may reasonably be considered involuntary manslaughter.

Now, though, there is no way to work for a tobacco company and not know that what you do is sell poison, and that the ultimate effect of your product, used as is intended, is slaughter.


Most people, I’d like to think, would take a long look in the mirror and decide that there are other ways to spend our three score and ten than making a living off the wholly preventable suffering and death of uncounted others.

But clearly those working for Big Tobacco somehow missed that day in school when the class talked about the golden rule — not to mention  just about any version of the minimum expectations for human moral behavior.  Which is why first world tobacco titans  now seek to compel cash-strapped nation-states to accept the sale of death as just another bit of misery those with power can enforce on those with less.*

Let me be clear:  the law may say otherwise, but forcing tobacco on countries trying to restrict its use seems to me to be murder, pure and simple.

Sure, the victims are unknown, and their deaths in many cases decades in the future.  But the link between cigarettes and fatal disease is clear.  The motive for the companies’ actions are clear.  The gain in exchange for decisions that will inevitably result in many, many deaths is right out there in dollars and cents.  One may argue the formal distinctions between degrees, or between murder and manslaughter, but for me, deaths that the killer has reason to expect will happen as a consequence of his or her own actions count as the worst of crimes.

Regulation is needed.  So are tumbrels.

*Props, btw, to Michael Bloomberg, who the NYT reports paid for Uruguay’s defense in a suit  brought by Phillip Morris at a point where the country would have had to drop its tobacco law for lack of funds to defend it.  But hoping that right-minded billionaires will answer the call is no substitute for policy, and no remedy for the utter moral depravity on display in this story.

Image: Andrea di Bartolo, Massacre of the Innocents,  1380s

Tyranny of the Gun/Night Thoughts Of A Parent On Tucking In His Child

December 14, 2012

What can I say?

How to express the sorrow I feel for the families and friends in mourning after the Newtown school murders?

As many of you know, I have a young son, twelve now.  Every day I walk him to his public school in a suburb of Boston.  As I write this paragraph, I’m just about to head home to take him to his martial arts club — the kind of ordinary thing parents do.  The notion that I could have hugged him at the school door at 8 a.m. and then at lunch received that unspeakable phone call?

I have no words.


I’ve spent the afternoon trying to think of something other than the raw misery of the day.  The way my mind works, though, I couldn’t stop coming back to the same old question:  what to do about the damn guns.  I started by reading Fallows on this near-weekly exercise in American exceptionalism, and then I came across this essential Ezra Klein  piece, “Nine facts about guns and mass shootings.” 

The whole post is worth your attention, but here’s what is to my mind the money quote:

7. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive:

“The map overlays the map of firearm deaths above with gun control restrictions by state,” explains Florida. “It highlights states which have one of three gun control restrictions in place – assault weapons’ bans, trigger locks, or safe storage requirements. Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48).”

And yes, just in case there are any gotcha gun nuts reading this:  I’m aware that Connecticut with its relatively strong gun laws was the site of today’s tragedy.  That’s (part of) the problem — the most rigorous gun laws in this country are a shadow of what they are in other, less murder-stricken lands, and the state-by-state patchwork of laws combined with the interstate highway system means that even the strongest local protections are leaky as hell.

So, as I say, check out all that Ezra has to offer on all this; this is one of his good ones.

The only other thing I want to say right now is that I think it’s important to politicize the hell out of this event…but towards particular policy goals.
I’m not really ready to write coherently anything more than to note that it is intolerable — immoral, in my view — to simply accept as the cost of being American a gun culture that results in both the murder of children and a rate of death by gun that took about 30,000 lives in 2011, roughly two-thirds of them suicides. (PDF).  We’ve got to get to a better circumstance — and if that means taking out NRA candidates state assembly rep by rep — that’s a challenge we can talk through over the next little while

But for now…well I’ve been pecking at this between kinder-transport duty and dinner and dishes, and I’ve just come downstairs again from a longer-than-usual bedtime cuddle.

My son and I talked a bit about the shootings, and he took the news on board without really letting me know what he thinks about it.   He does that — he guards his counsel until he’s decided what his parents need to know.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew why I squeezed him tonight harder than usual.

It sounds hollow as hell to say it, but fuck it — here goes:

Stay safe, everyone, and hold close those you love.

Image:  Fra Angelico, The Massacre of the  Innocentsbetween 1451 and 1452.


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