One Nation, Divisible


I’ve been fortunate, I think, in that I’ve not had a particularly difficult life. Yes, there have been those moments that I wish had never happened, the deaths of loved ones, the disasters, the extreme anguish, but those times are a luxury for a white male born in England and living, now, in the USA. I’ve never been more than momentarily on the receiving end of prejudice. I’ve never been to war. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never gone a day without food, except when I chose not to. And providence has seen to it that I’ve never been in a disaster, though I’ve lost friends to them. And I’ve never, really, been in a situation where the government has been overtly and aggressively at war with its own people. Until now.

The UK in the 1980s was an extremely unusual nexus of time and place, a node in the rhizomatic structure that emerges as history. The prosperity and hope of the swinging 60s had given way to the industrial unrest of the anarchic 70s, due, in no small part, to the capitalistic machinations of OPEC, elite corruption, the crackdown on socialist ideals, and the breakdown of the ideals of socialists. In its wake, swanning onto the political center stage, came Thatcher and her “on your bike” economic vandals, ably supported by the rising star of her right-wing transatlantic paramour, Reagan, who rallied to the same war cry. The unions are too strong. Bosh! The people are too lazy to work. Biff! Socialism is Communist. Smash! There’s too much money to keep inflation down. Crack! What can we ever do to fix this mess?

Luckily, a savior had been born. Milton Friedman had won a Nobel prize in 1976 for his free market, trickle-down, economic theories. “Fuck Keynesian economics,” he might have said in private. His idea was that inflation is a function of consumption, and consumption is connected to income. Destabilize and restrict income, preferably as a natural result of free-market instabilities, and consumption will fall. And when consumption falls, inflation goes away. Sure, a few people might starve, but at least the cost of funerals will be steady. Thatcher and Reagan and their cronies swooned at Friedman’s alligator-loafered feet. This is just the ticket, they thought, to fight Communism, put the working class and those Bolshy union bastards back in their box, and regain control for the wealthy elites. Meanwhile, Thatcher could prove the merits of the free-market–no one had to know that it was being manipulated–and reinforce the social structures that had stood for hundreds of years. All it took was a bit of union busting and a winnable, Jingoistic war for our brave boys, and the press will be lapping up the anti-Commie, red-menace propaganda in no time. Take away tertiary education, take away milk and school lunches, take away their communities by privatizing the social housing, et voilà! Uncertainty. Disunity. Misery. Now, if we can just find a scapegoat or two…

Ah, yes. Scousers and miners, the two most vocal, visible, and organized opponents of Thatcher’s politics of destabilization. The national coal industry was being undermined by the free-market, which was the way it should be, said Thatcher. Drive prices down, make people compete, and productivity goes up. Import cheap coal, and the lazy British miner had to modernize, make sacrifices for efficiency, and work for his money, went her rhetoric. Except that the imported coal was cheap because it was subsidized by foreign governments who knew that jobs and infrastructure were more important than rapacious profits. It wasn’t a fair fight and the miners could never win it. They tried, though, and it took a couple of years for the police, acting as Thatcher’s private security force, to literally and figuratively beat the strikers into submission, cheered on by the establishment press.

People died, sometimes at their own hand, as families fell apart and communities broke down. By the time Thatcher was done, the Miners union had been starved into submission, and privatization became the national mantra. Privatization was good, said Thatcher, because it relieved the burden of failing industries from the national purse. It also relieved the government of the burden of complying with safety rules, working standards, paying a living wage, giving the workers their rights. Unfettered by the shackles of humane treatment, the newly privatized industries fell into the hands of Thatcher’s elite friends, and the fuckers raked it in. And if anyone complained, there was always the Falklands War to distract them, a minor turf war in the South Atlantic over a sheep-stuffed rock that gave Britain mineral rights claims to the Antarctic. Let’s teach those uppity Argies a thing or two, eh? Britannia rules the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves… unless they no longer had a union.

The right-wing rags had a thing or two to say. The Daily Mail. The Sun. The Express. The dailies owned by the upper-class elite were the basest of all. Oi! Who’s that union leader riding around in a Jaguar? Surely the working-class oik should be in rags and pushing a handcart! He’s a class traitor, innit! If you had no education—and education was less and less available to the underclasses as schools and universities were spanked by the defunding fetish of the 80s–you were likely to believe every word.

And, into the crosshairs came Liverpool. That city that fought to abolish the slave-trade that its wealth had been built upon. The city that once handled 40-percent of every ocean-going cargo in the world. The city at the vanguard of the general transport strike for workers’ rights, to where the government in London deployed troops to violently suppress industrial unrest. The city whose major income came from its Atlantic-facing port, and which was left to rot when the UK joined the EU and cargoes shifted to Europe to the south and east. The city that, despite it all, fought back and refused to set punitive budgets that enabled Thatcher’s as-yet unpublished manifesto of managed decline. The city that retaliated against the imposed social housing sell off by building more replacement social housing than any other city in the country. The city that continued to rebel against Thatcher.

With the labour movement and unions in disarray, under constant threat from Thatcher’s aggression, the Labour Party, funded by the unions and founded as the party of the working class, fell under the spell of centralism. The seeds of neo-liberalism were sown by Kinnock et al., who fell into the centre-right as Thatcher moved the Tories to the far right. And to assure the battered and brainwashed masses that Labour could be for all people, Kinnock vowed to oust the socialists, the militants, the unionists from the party. First to go were the Militant tendency, among which were the defiant Liverpool City councillors, evicted from the party, and evicted from elected office. At the protests, the crowd was battered into submission by our boys in blue—not quite on the same scale as Orgreave, but brutal in its micro-focus. At the time, if you asked why Scousers didn’t trust the police in Liverpool, this would have been the reason. They would soon have another. The press fell into line, and the loony, left-wing, thieving Scouser stories were rife. On TV, and in the papers, the media was sharpening the tools of the trade, and Liverpool was its test run. But that was before Hillsborough. After 15 April, 1989, things would never be the same.

From its architecture, culture, sports stars, comedians, poets, musicians, politicians, sense of humor, savvy streetwise attitudes, warmth, and sense of community, Liverpool was a city with so much to be proud of, and it wasn’t shy of telling people, albeit with a unique mix of brazen cheek and sage humility. And despite the knocks along the way, it continued to succeed, one way or another. Deriving its enormous wealth from the slave trade, the people of Liverpool, the second city of the sprawling British Empire, challenged the slave traders and campaigned for the end of slavery. When it was abolished, Liverpool, because it had the foresight and technological prowess to build the most modern docks in the world, continued to prosper as a regular, commercial, shipping port. When the money turned to Europe and the docking trade collapsed, we had the Beatles. And when the Beatles disbanded, we had more bands, more playwrights, more talent. We also had the best footie teams in the world, and between us we dominated European football. On the way to an all-Liverpool FA Cup final, Liverpool traveled to Hillsborough and the world collapsed. Police forced too many fans into the same tunnel and, because Thatcher had decided that all football fans were working-class hooligans, waiting at the other end of the tunnels were pens, used to keep the animals in check. 96 football fans died in a crush created by the police, and it was covered up for two and a half decades. The fans were blamed, the city was blamed, and the media fell in line. They’d had a few years to practice the Scouse Scum line, so when the disaster happened, when innocent fans were killed, the newspapers were geared up for it. Some newspapers, prompted by the police, made horrific claims about how fans pickpocketed the dead and pissed on cops. The cops threatened to drag the names of the victims through the mud, where their still-warm corpses lay, if the families kicked up a stink. And the government crowed about how the city was its own worst enemy.

I’d never really been politically savvy, or “woke” as the modern phrase goes. I hung out with some of Liverpool’s Militant contingent. I knew miners and those affected by the strike. I was a poor, working-class kid who went to the posh school by way of a form of scholastic affirmative action. I was thrilled when my parents bought their council house, not wondering what would happen to people who needed a place to live and couldn’t afford private rents. I had been fortunate enough to somewhat survive the worst privations, and had found my way into well-paying IT career, which was what I was doing, working at the bank’s IT centre near Sheffield, on Hillsborough weekend. I wasn’t a regular match-goer, work got in the way and I moved around a lot, but I had friends who were. All of my friends escaped but many of theirs didn’t. Over the next few days and weeks, the trauma set in, and the naked aggression and outright enmity of the state apparatus became crystal.

I wrote about this many years later, and I received comments after my story was printed in The Guardian about how not everyone thought like that. How not everyone was against Liverpool. It’s true. They weren’t. But it must be said that support and solidarity was thin on the ground and didn’t last as long as was needed. Hands of support from other cities were shoved deep into grim pockets of grief, and when they eventually re-emerged they formed dismissive waves that said it was time the city just got over it. But that day, Hillsborough, to my mind, was the day the government declared war on the people.

After Thatcher fell, of course, the country was ready for a change, and the change they elected was Tony Blair. Blair was a new Thatcher, a warm, kindly, pragmatic Thatcher, an Iron Laddie with a Saville Row suit, kid gloves, and a soothing, charming smile. Leading the Labour Party, the New Labour Party of neoliberals, a Clintonesque (William Jefferson) reflection of the new centrists that had smoothly occupied the territory evacuated from the right-shifting Tories, Blair caringly back-peddled a few of Thatcher’s more brutal policies, but only until he’d got his party settled in. By the time the “New Labour” phonies left office, education cost an arm and a leg, industry was on its knees, and workers had even less rights than when Thatcher was ousted from her own party. The Labour Party had ceased to exist as the political voice of the workers, and when the Tories eventually swept back into power, there was no one on the left to oppose them. Last year’s Brexit was the bellwether for a set of anti-worker, anti-rights policies that was never expected to bring the sheep into the pen but rather just point in the direction of where the Tories were going. But because of the disastrous policies of the anti-education elite, the uneducated flock followed, meek as ever, terrified by the threat of immigrant wolves, fed to fattening point by the lies of the right-wing, anti-people populist rags.

Of course, by that time, I was already here, in the USA, and had spent the first few years raking in a bundle as an IT consultant, ignoring the neoliberal policies of Clinton, who, by way of appeasing the witch-hunting GOP who knew he’d been fucking around, introduced conservative policies like the three-strikes sentencing laws, mandatory minimums, and a restructured, limited welfare system. Like Thatcher, Clinton was also quite as fond of bombing foreigners when the White House heat got a little too much to handle. When the shit hit the fan in the Middle East, we already knew the script. Reagan had focused more on the big stick than the soft speaking, and had overtly militarized the US’s foreign policy, making it easy for Clinton to follow Reagan’s lead in Grenada. Clinton bombed Tripoli to distract the Senate, who wanted to know why he lied about shagging Lewinsky. His wife was behind him, on camera, for fucksake. What man isn’t gonna be tempted to lie in that situation? And then, Saddam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait happened. The CIA had started arming and training the Afghani’s under the Carter administration to keep the Russians focused on their own unwinnable war. It was a war of destabilization that continued under Reagan (and beyond), even when some of the CIA’s favorite playthings got out of their box and started shooting American weapons at each other. And America had to intervene because, well, if we can keep them shooting, eventually they’re gonna run out and need more bullets, and hey, we’re the biggest gun shop in the world, right? USA and the Brits, oil and guns and political distractions. “We has a need, and you has a problem. Let’s get together and work it all out. And if some oilfields find their way into our hands, well, thems the breaks, eh kid?”

Bush Sr, Baby Bush, Obamabomber, now Trump. The reason the wars haven’t stopped is because the money hasn’t run out yet. Eisenhower warned, just as he left office and not before, of the power of the military-industrial complex. He wasn’t prophesying, he was commenting on current events. And we didn’t see it, did we? Boo-yah, Amerikka! Britannia Rules the Waves. Whatever nationalist, by jingo, sloganeering dog-whistle they use, it gets us scratching our fleas and looking for the bone, eh? We’re so unable to dissect the words coming out of their mouths that whatever they say is gonna get 50% for and 50% against, of the 50% who vote. It’s knife-edge, un-nuanced, same coin politics, and the working man hasn’t had a break in half a century. Heads or tails, Dems or GOP, Tories or Labour, it makes no difference to the working-class poor. They’ve been shafted every step of the way and it didn’t matter what colour rosette the politicians wore.

Okay, so let’s just take a minute to laugh at all those deluded turkeys voting for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Come one, let it out. Let’s have a great big belly laugh about the dumbfuck rednecks, the idiot workers, the bigots, the temporarily impecunious millionaires, the trailer-park tycoons, the council-estate captains of industry who voted for Donald Trump and Theresa May, okay? You done yet? Need another minute? Okay, go on, let it out. Those dumb, ignorant, racist, idiots, eh? How could they be so stupid as to vote for their own annihilation? Go on, let’s have a big old laugh about it. Okay, one more minute, go on, because then we gotta get back to the serious stuff.

I’m okay with words, I can string a few together and make them look pretty, but put a couple of calculus equations under my nose and ask me which one looks right and I am absolutely flummoxed. I have no training, no expertise, no inkling of what might or might not be right. Tell me my livelihood depends on it, and I still won’t have a clue. Without education it is impossible to make educated decisions. Now ask a man who has spent 30 years struggling financially which politician is going to improve his lot, and he likely won’t  have a clue. Especially when both candidates are out to fuck him over. One candidate tells him its his own fault. Or society’s fault. Or the economy’s fault. The other candidate says it’s a foreigner’s fault, ot’s an illegal immigrant who is taking his work and freeloading on his tax money. If the man votes at all, he’s gonna vote for the guy who tells him the problem is everyone else’s fault, because, for the most part, he’d be right. But it isn’t the immigrant, the migrant worker, the foreigner to blame. It’s the political classes and the elite who are fucking him over administration after administration, but he’s gonna vote for the guy who points the finger at the culprits, and who makes the problem understandable, and says it is easy to fix. The voter’s not an idiot, he’s simply responding to decades of political conditioning. He’s scared, bitter, resentful, and wants what is best for himself and his family. He recognizes something different, so he chooses it. It’s the smartest decision he’s been conditioned to make.

Wanna know who the biggest idiot of all is? You are. And me. And all of us (I assume, because you’ve made it this far) who are inquisitive, thinking, caring people who are worried about what happens next and who is going to come along to save us. You are the biggest loser, and you want to know why? Because you have failed to see what these dumb-ass working-class idiots have known for years. How big was your student loan when you left school? How long did it take to pay off? Maybe you had a parent or relative that paid instead, lucky you. One in six Americans has a student loan debt. The average debt of a college graduate is $37,172. The US student loan debt is $1.4 trillion. That’s bigger than the credit card debt industry. But… you got a job. You only took 15 years to pay it back. If you can do it, anyone can do it, right? You are an educated, well-informed, productive member of society. Not your fault some dumb-ass believes Breitbart, eh?

Actually, yes, yes it is. Because this brutal, me-first, Make Americans like me Great Again society, that adores wealth and celebrity, and reveres gilded butterflies like Trump, hasn’t done a thing to stop the commodification of education. How can you expect someone to choose wisely when he isn’t educated enough to apply basic critical thinking skills to what he is being told? You haven’t stopped this by holding your representatives’ feet to the fire every time they vote for a self-serving policy that fucks the poor. That’s your fault. And mine.

We also haven’t done anything to halt the medical insurance industry that feeds one on every two of the 1.5 million annual American bankrupts, and which now takes 20 cents out of every, yes, EVERY dollar we earn. (In contrast, the NEA costs each person $0.46 per year. You can’t even buy a Coke for what it costs you to fund the NEA/NEH.)

We haven’t done enough to stop the wars that have sucked a trillion dollars from the public purse and poured it into the private hands of the military-industrial complex.

We haven’t done enough to create the politicians that we think we deserve.

Instead, what we have done is reached what I hope is the conclusion of this political death spiral, and elected Trump and (probably) May, a president and Prime Minister whose naked hostility toward the underprivileged and underclasses of society is actually something of a refreshing change. They are at war with their constituent populations and they no longer need to hide it. Gone are the snake-tongues; they tell it like it is, and it’s terrifyingly clear. Trump is fighting a War on America. May is fighting a War on Britain. They don’t have to hide it anymore. The electorate is so conditioned, so divided, so beaten into submission, that they can count on their supporters to help them defeat themselves. We are their biggest allies in their wars on us.

Look at May with Brexit and the dismantling of the NHS. The NHS has been looted and pilfered for generations by successive Tory and the neoliberal Labour governments, so when they point out that it is failing, people agree. But because no one tells anyone why it’s failing, when the Tories say privatization is the answer, people don’t know whether it is or not, so they’ll nod and say yes because it looks like a solution. The real solution is, of course, to stop stealing money from the NHS already given by the British people. The Tories say they want to give everyone tax breaks, they are, after all, the party of low taxes, right? But then they spend your NHS tax money on wars, and expenses, and Brexit campaigns, and banker bailouts, and then tell you that we must privatize the NHS and install an American model that will cost another 20 pence in the pound. They’re not offering a tax refund for the money they stole, they’re implementing a double tax, but one that bypasses the government and goes straight to the private pockets of their industry cronies. They’re not the party of low taxes, they’re the party that privatizes taxes and defunds the government. The Tories and the GOP and the Dems and the Old New Labour don’t want to fund government, they want to use the government to siphon public funds into private hands.

Brexit was voted in on a campaign of lies, lies stating that the NHS will get 350 million quid back a week that currently goes into EU pockets. It was a big fat lie that was admitted by its perpetrators within 12 hours of the final tally. The horror of the Europeans deciding British laws culminated in the weird headlines about how bananas would have to be straight from now on. There was uproar in the right-wing dailies, and people believed it. And then, of course, there were the terrorists and immigrants and all those foreigners coming here and taking our jobs etc. A large number of Britons who voted for Brexit said immigration was a factor, and they didn’t like just anyone coming here. This, even though half of the people immigrating to the UK come from outside the free-movement, Schengen zone of the EU. Some people voted against Brexit to stop people from Africa, India, and Asia coming to the UK. It’s madness, wrong-headed, flat out wrong madness, and yet no one in the most popular, populist daily newspapers ever sought to set the record straight. In the UK, the “immigrant terrorist” is most likely to be a British-born citizen who has been systematically disenfranchised by years of economic oppression and a daily ration of hateful headlines attacking his religion, his skin, his heritage, and his culture. We made this man a terrorist, and then we blame his god.

In a fit of pique, I elected to become a citizen of the USA after Brexit. I figured that the UK was no longer the country I belonged to, the one I knew. So, let’s focus on the scary new America happening on the other side of the pond. Across the pond – how cute that saying is, eh? Like a short hop across shallow waters, a minor thrill to hop to the other side of the same body of water. Ideologically it’s probably quite accurate because there’s barely a trickle of difference between the two countries that I am now a citizen of.

I wanted to become a US citizen so I could vote. I couldn’t vote against Brexit because I’d been away too long. I’ve become more and more politically active, it felt wrong not to be able to vote my political conscience. When I filed for citizenship, Bernie Sanders was still in the running as a candidate. My citizenship ceremony was held the week after Trump was elected. Timing, eh?

Since November, like this is a surprise at all, Trump has declared war on anyone and anything that doesn’t benefit the wealthy elite and their cronies. Family planning, women, the poor, the environment, healthcare, education, the differently-abled, the LGBTQ constituency, Hispanics, foreigners, the working-class, the middle-class, the other, the truth.

The day after Hillsborough happened, The Sun printed a headline that said THE TRUTH, and we all knew it was a pack of lies concocted by the police, Thatcher’s political cabal, and the newspapers to deflect the blame and put Liverpool in the crosshairs. 28 years later, Trump has taken the truth and made it lie, and taken lies and made them truth. This fake news, fake truth, fake president has perverted every last sense of fact and introduced an alternative truth that carries as much weight for anyone who wants to believe it. Breitbart and TASS get front-page scoops from within the White House and the serious press, the ones that have not yet quite fallen to elite ownership, the NY Times, CNN, Washington Post, and The Guardian are barred from press events. A Montana politician, Greg Gianforte, body slams a reporter who asked an inconvenient question, breaking his glasses, and yet he gets elected to office the next day. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, then makes a joke about shooting reporters. And we wonder why people are so ill-informed that they can’t see right through Trump’s war on them?

Then again, who else were they going to vote for? Hawkish Hillary, a Wall Street insider who offered more of the same neoliberal status quo? People were hurting and the Democrats, frequently right on the hot-button social issues, offered no relief to the working poor. Ignored them, even. Sanders was the only man offering real change to the US political system, one that tried to address the root causes, and he was run out of town by a Democratic Party intent on ensuring no William Wallace/FDR-like candidate ever got into the oval office again. Whaddya mean no war? Who are we gonna sell guns to? Whaddya mean single-payer health insurance? How will Aetna and Blue Cross and United Health make billion dollar annual profits now? We see the same thing in the UK with Jeremy Corbyn. A committed, passionate, idealist and pragmatic democratic socialist, Corbyn represents the ideals that the Labour Party was founded on, and he has been excoriated by the press, left, right, and center. Not only that, but the neo-liberal members of his own party have tried everything to get him out of the leadership role, despite the fact that he seems to be drawing younger voters by the millions, voters that will be the core electorate for decades to come. I suspect he won’t beat May in the general election, but he might be able to gain enough votes to form a coalition government. Might. But I doubt it. And if May wins, she will finally have what she thinks is a mandate for negotiating the Brexit that eliminates the rules that the EU implemented to protect British workers from the British government under the likes of Thatcher, Blair, and their bastard offspring.

It all seems a bit hopeless, really, and I struggle to find even the smallest glimmer of light. I think the USA is a done deal, and fear the UK is going the same way. But at least in the UK the Labour Party under Corbyn has finally offered a political platform that represents real change. Here, what we are seeing is more of the bumbling, naysayer, oppositional politics that the Dems have excelled in. From President Clinton to Obama, to Hillary Clinton, the Dems have spent decades being the party of scoff. Name me one solid, immutable, Democratic belief that translates into party policy during that time? I bet you’ll struggle. And yet, here we are, presented with a man who has declared war on America, who has leveraged the ignorance of a manipulated population and enlisted the aid of the billionaire bastard club to fight his battles, and what are the Democrats saying about this? They are saying, “No.” And that’s it. No. There’s no follow-up. There’s no future design. There’s no pledge to reinsert EPA laws. No statement saying that universal healthcare will be implemented post-Trump, and single-payer installed. There’s no unambiguous statement on electoral reform, on education, on reversing a single thing that Trump is doing. The Dems are playing the game of opposition, because they don’t have another game right now. They’re saying what they stand against, but they are not saying what they stand for.

Saying no is not enough. The Democrats need a platform that lays out a solid, strategic plan for a better future for all. It needs to be set out and left in the public domain for a few years to percolate. It needs to be a vision for the future that people can see, not a denial of the nightmare we are living through. The economic rubble that has rained down on the working-class for decades cannot be stopped overnight. Change, real, progressive, change beneficial across the spectrum of society, that doesn’t leave the working class and poor to rot, needs to become a mindset that becomes a national culture. When we look after the poorest and most underserved in our communities, when they are not hurting and suffering and being ignored, when they are educated and supported and cared for, they, in turn, will look after the immigrant, the poor, the foreigner, the other. Trump is a symptom, not a sickness – though the man clearly has some issues – but he is not to blame. We are to blame for the society we have designed. No one else. And only we can fix it.

Dreaming of an America after Trump?


Well? What if? What if Trump was impeached tomorrow? Or forced to resign? However it works, imagine Little Hands is out of office. I’ve seen it suggested that the GOP wants the same as the Dems, for Trump to fail. I’ve even seen it suggested that the Republicans are just waiting for him to step out of line so they can throw him out of office and put a “real” Republican like Pence in his seat.

Wouldn’t that be nice, eh?

But, Mike Pence, right? Even scarier than a loudmouthed misogynist, is a bigot with a plan. Okay, so let’s say Trump and Pence both go. What next?

There are hundreds of bastards like Trump and Pence just waiting in line for the chance to screw over the poor, the religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, the non-whites, non-straights, and non-males. If Trump and Pence were to be spirited away tomorrow, there would be hundreds more just like them jostling to take their places. Politicians louder, more extreme, more outrageous, more controversial, more religious, would fight to win the hearts, not minds, of a nation of ignoramuses created by their policies and populism. In the last century, this country is has become a petri dish for bigots and bastards like trump and Pence. Their elimination from office gives us no more than an afternoon’s respite while their replacements are selected. The next day, it’ll be back to business.

Yay, we win, nothing’s changed. And it’ll take a long time before we have the energy to fight anyone else. It’s a winning strategy for those that hold the power behind the personality politics that plagues this country. We get to win and nothing changes until the next election when we go through it all again and pick the next person that won’t do anything either. This time authoritarian and patriarchal, next time liberal and progressive, right? And when the political pendulum swings back in the direction of our own positions, we can all take a one- or two-term timeout and pretend we’re making progress.

The current dialog seems to be that, once Sanders was eliminated from the race, the “progressive”or left-leaning alternative to Trump was Clinton, a career politician every bit as embedded in self-interest and social apathy as a politician can be; a war-hawk liberal who didn’t inherit her wealth like Trump, but accumulated it while her husband was president and while she was a senator. This so-called servant of the liberal left got rich while her husband was cutting welfare and unemployment benefits to appease the GOP, who wanted him impeached because he couldn’t keep his dick to himself. Clinton, H. (and Clinton, B.) accumulated millions while she voted to inflate the housing bubble, and then got richer again from the coffers of the same companies that cashed in their unregulated toxic loans and junk bonds and bailed themselves out with billions of dollars of taxpayer money. Would she have been a more progressive option than Trump? Absolutely. Would she have been the better option for leftists? Definitely. But Clinton as lefty saviour? Fuck off. The Dems as the progressive party? Double fuck off.

We’re mourning the end of the Obama era not because of what he achieved, but because of what he allowed us to believe about ourselves. Gay-friendly, women-friendly, kid-friendly, peace-loving Obama, the candidate of Hope, the man who said Yes We Can, the man who gave us hope for the future, who spoke eloquently and behaved with dignity, even as he fucked the dog for the first two years, even as he crumbled and signed off on the bailout bills bequeathed to him by Bush’s busted flush, even as he pushed more troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, and loaded up more drones, and dropped more bombs on brown people in more countries than any other president before him. Mourn Obama if you like, he was graceful and smart and funny and cool, and he said a few nice words and signed a few nice laws that lagged far behind the public sentiment of common decency. He is better than what comes next, but he failed to make Obamacare fit his original vision. And he failed to translate the radical popularity of his transformational presidential campaign into real and lasting change. He failed to transform his party from the party that elected him to a party that was electable without him. That is partly on him, but it’s mostly on the sleep-walking neo-liberalism of the Democrats, a traditional right of center party that eschewed the teachings of FDR and worked against Henry Wallace to ensure a leftist like FDR would never again threaten their corporate paymasters.

Blame Pence and Trump and the GOP all you like, and their supporters, but the Dems are complicit in this and we won’t see anything like real change while people like Clinton stalk the Democrats’ convention halls. Sanders almost made it, almost overcame the Democrats nomination regulating machinery, but he’s too old to make another run. Elizabeth Warren is where the Dems need to be looking because she exists beyond easy labels like “socialist”—but she’s also too extreme for establishment Democrats, and too smart, too dangerous, and too impervious to bullshit for the corporations that own them. The Dems are a party that looks to its members for policies and platforms, and only remembers the people, especially the working class, when it is election time and they are forced to go looking for votes.

So where does change finally come from? Will America ever be a progressive country? Will it ever live up to its promise? It won’t happen in my lifetime. The problem is generational and cannot be fixed without a long-term commitment to a concerted and extended grass-roots effort to see beyond personal gain. Maybe a catastrophic collapse of the American empire would precipitate the social and political revolution needed to fix the problem sooner. Maybe we need another Great Depression and Wall Street Crash to persuade people that rampant self interest helps no one in the long term. Trump might just bring that about, and it might bring a progressive backlash.

But while plenty of people still look to FDR’s social policies as the progressive ideal, we can’t forget that it took a pair of World Wars to destroy Europe and propel the USA into its position as the global financial leader and military superpower. More than FDR’s New Deal, WWII brought untold riches to the USA and while it was perhaps unintentional to make such a paradigm-shifting profit from the global conflict, the lesson was quickly learned that a permanent war economy was good for technologists, industrialists, and financiers. It’s not bad for the churches either. Against that level of organized and protective self-interest, it’s going to take a mammoth effort to create lasting change.

Maybe there is hope. And maybe we saw it yesterday when millions of men, women, children in the USA and around the world put on their marching boots and demonstrated that they were prepared to get up off their arses and speak truth to power. People can be moved to stand up for their rights, to stand up for equality, progress, and justice. And what we saw, more than anything else, is that people coalesce around causes and fight injustices. It was wonderful to see, but unless it transforms society it will be a pretty memory and not much more. People don’t march for a label. People aren’t motivated by partisan squabbling. And, as we saw, people don’t vote for a party that doesn’t represent them.

If the Democrats can’t see that, can’t accept that they need to change to capture that energy, then there are millions of votes just waiting for the party, any party, that does. So far, none of them do.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy


If this is your image, please let me know so I can give proper credit. Borrowed from the Wonkette blog.
If this is your image, please let me know so I can give proper credit. Borrowed from the Wonkette blog.

$1.8 billion was spent by Clinton and Trump in a presidential election that was allegedly decided by a hacking campaign funded from Putin’s pocket-change.This must say many things about the state of this democracy. Clinton spent $1.2 billion on her campaign, outspending Trump 2:1, and still lost to a small-handed, thin-skinned, egotistical ignoramus, a racist, misogynist liar in thrall to the billionaire class from which he came. We spent nearly $2 billion on a dyspeptic election between two deeply flawed candidates so out of touch with the working and middle classes that an election-winning minority chose immediate self-destruction while the losing majority preferred slow exsanguination. 

How flawed was Clinton’s campaign that the election was even close? When a nation decided that the billionaire will beat the multi-millionaire in a race to the bottom of the swamp, surely the question has to be not why he won but why so many people agree that Capitol Hill is a swamp? How many years of reptilian predation did it take to get this far? 240 years ago, the nation’s forefathers argued over installing a new American aristocracy to replace the British one that they’d just served with divorce papers. The idea of the popular vote, the tyranny of the masses, terrified them so much that they created a bicameral government, that would look like a democracy but behave like a patriarchy. The will of the voters, rich white men, would be represented by Congress and tempered by the sage guidance of Senate, populated by even richer white men. The women, the poor, and non-whites could not be trusted with a vote. Two and a half centuries later and plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, nest-ce pas? The poor still agree that the poor can’t be trusted with a vote, and who cares anyway, right? Certainly not Hillary, who decided that she already had the poor vote, the women’s vote, the black and Hispanic votes, and went after the white middle-class vote, in a neo-liberal disenfranchisement of the Democratic base. And while the base stayed home, the baser voted for a rich white man whose campaign depended on pushing as many buttons as possible and remembering which ones drew the loudest cheers. 

It’s a slippery slope, of course. Once you accept that only the wealthy can hold power, and that special interests and lobbying can purchase legislation, and when the Supreme Court upholds that free speech means no restrictions on private money supporting political candidates, then you can’t really object when the money comes from special interests that may or may not reside outside the country. Hey-ho, the shift to transglobal power brokerage becomes the norm, and every four years we hold an election to show how nothing changes except the special interest rates.

Despite being outspent by an establishment politician in the pocket of Wall Street, the man whose business resides at 40 Wall Street won in a landslide loss to a candidate that won 3 million more popular votes, because of an electoral college system designed by the bedwetting self-interested government to ensure that a populist candidate like Trump would never win. Even two centuries ago, they feared someone like Trump would destroy America. Because of the reverence that we place in the Constitution, that infallible sacred article that has only been found wanting 27 times and amended once every nine years, we hold tightly to a flawed democracy that lawyers, the second-oldest profession, have debated for 200 years, but which everyone else can understand and interpret, and that everyone cherishes in whole but cherry picks only the bits we like best.

Once elected, as expected, the slight of hand Trump immediately revealed his sleight of hand, and has begun assembling the most despicable cabinet of despicable basket cases that DC has ever seen. D.C. Comics couldn’t create an outfit of such villainy, and all we can do is marvel at the appointments of men whose sole aim is to destroy the very bureaus of which they are the sworn enemies.

– Rick Perry, as Energy Secretary, heads a department whose name he forgot when asked which department he would scrap. Perry, the weapon who once got a D in a college class called “Meat,” will have be entrusted with the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.

– “Crooked” Hillary might have been paid to speak to Goldman-Sachs a few times, but we don’t know if Steve Mnuchin, the ex-Goldman-Sachs exec and Trump’s pick for Treasury Secretary, was ever in the audience.
– Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon, six-term Republican congressman, and staunch opposer of the Affordable Care program, is chosen as Health and Human Services Secretary, whose mandate is to manage the Affordable Care program.
– Scott Pruitt, the fossil fuel shill from Oklahoma, who campaigns for deregulation of the oil industry, is to be the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, an agency he is currently suing.
– Andrew Puzder, the fast-food magnate whose livelihood was built on zero-hours contracts and no minimum wage is chosen as the labor Secretary.
– Linda McMahon, the former chief exec of World Wrestling Entertainment, will go three rounds with the Small Business Administration.
– Elaine Chao, the wife of Mitch McConnell and long-term swamp resident, once Labor Secretary under G. W. Bush, will be in charge of making America’s infrastructure great again as Transportation Secretary.
– Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant who has drawn criticism for his anti-Muslim rhetoric is Trump’s choice for National Security Advisor.
– Stephen Bannon, Breitbart exec and all-around right-wing, racist fucknut, is Trump’s Chief Strategist.
– Ben Carson, the other-worldly neurosurgeon who ran for president and then said he was throwing his vote to Trump in exchange for a cabinet position, and then said he was unqualified for government because he had no experience…will accept the position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
– Jeff Sessions, the Alabama old boy who was rejected as a federal judge because of his racism, is to be Attorney General, overseeing the federal judges.

I haven’t even mentioned Mike Pence, the anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ crusader, as Trump’s VP and sidekick. The list of supervillains goes on and on and, Jesus, this is all too fucking depressing. But there is one last special mention for Rex W. Tillerson, Trump’s pick for Secretary of State. He’s the Texan Exxon CEO who received the Order of Friendship from Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Possibly more sinister, he was the 33rd president of the Boy Scouts of America. Tillerson, who received a BS from the University of Texas at Austin, is the anti-regulation, climate change denier, who supports open energy markets and broke Iraqi law by signing energy contracts with Iraqi Kurds in 2011. Hw also wants deregulation of energy, but joined a lawsuit to prevent a water-tower being built that would have facilitated the increase of fracking near his home in Irving, Texas.

More worrying than the usual array of hypocrisy, right-wing zealotry, and generally high levels of hypocrisy and self-interested fucknuttery, it are Tillerson’s ties to fellow energy Tsar, Vladimir Putin. Given that the CIA and FBI have both confirmed that Russian hackers did in fact play a role in subverting the course of the US elections, which pissed James Comes off no end because he thought his strategic announcements of investigations into Clinton use of a private mail server, a precedent (yes, Trump that’s how you spell it, you illiterate baboon) set by all previous email-capable administrations. By the way, is the GOP calling for an investigation into whether James Comes is the FBI face of Putin’s hack squad?

Trump, of course, asked for the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails. Maybe he already knew they had. And, maybe that’s why, despite spending only (only!) $600 million on his campaign, he swept to power. Some may blame the Russians and Putin, but, again, if your campaign is so bad that the poor vote for ritual disembowelment at the (small) hands of the orange ignoramus, can we really blame some hackers who, in their day job, run technical support for Time Warner Cable (probably)? Putin and pocket-change campaign for change means that Trump benefits Russia (or Putin) more than Clinton does. Why? Is it because the Russian he-man thinks he has more sway over day-go Don? Or does it mean Vlad and Donnie, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, presents more of an opportunity for both of them to make money? Money and power seem to be the stock in trade of the political classes the world over, and maybe it simply comes down to that fact that Russia’s rubles buy more power than Donnie’s dollars, and that’s why Clinton is left licking her wounds while the man who presented a real opportunity for change continues his campaign of hearts and minds from his newly installed elder statesman throne at the top table of the Democratic Party.

Bernie’s right, of course. Only when we finally have a pure, political system that money can’t buy will we finally have a democracy that decries rather than depends upon special interests, financial corruption, and transnational power brokerage that recasts the nouveau riche as ancien regime. But then, surely that’s just the raving of a bitter old madman. Why would anyone in this Christian nation listen to an irascible, wild-eyed, Jewish socialist who wants to throw the money lenders out of the political temple, eh?

The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Pithead Chapel


Another story published today, this time in Pithead Chapel, who were a joy to work with!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

“The best way is to strip out the bones and guts and split the fish down to the tail so the meat can be draped over the racks. Kingfish and mackerel work best, but it’s been a while since Delmar netted fish large enough to hang. Instead, Elise ties the tails with strips of cloth and scraps of old nylon net and pegs the flesh up to dry in the salt winds. Before Delmar, Elise would go out in the boat with Papa, watching him set his nets, haul them in, and gut the fish on the way home. The twitching fish around her feet would make her giggle and Papa would pretend to be angry when she picked out the smallest and slid them back into the water. When the wriggling stopped, the iridescence on their flanks faded and their red eyes dimmed like a thousand tiny sunsets. By the time they got home, trailing gulls, the fish would be ready to hang.”

Animals – Unedited


Three months ago The Guardian published a piece of mine about Hillsborough. It was heavily edited–understandably so due to the timing and their political sensitivities–but it introduced some inconsistencies. Now that the 3-month exclusivity period has expired, and Cameron is no longer PM, here’s the unedited original.

 

It started before we were even dead. While we pulled crushed blue bodies from a sea of red and carried them on advertising hoardings to the field, the authorities were already giving statements to the press that we were drunk, unruly; that we robbed our dead, spat at the police, and pissed on the injured. The smell of sweat and urine from dead, dying and injured Scousers didn’t stop us. We pulled lifeless children from the crowd and willed them to breathe. We hoisted unconscious bodies over high fences to safety, or give them room to die. We gave the kiss of life to those that no longer needed it. Broke down the barriers that penned us in. We were livestock, faces pushed into the bars, searching for air to fill lungs that had no room to breathe it in.

We were the lucky ones, those of us that were not corralled into the central area of the Leppings Lane. We would only have a life of nightmares that wake us up on sodden beds and struggle to hold back tears, burying our faces in the dark, held tight to the breasts of our wives and husbands. We were left alive. The broken and battered carcasses on the glorious green grass of Hillsborough were the ones that suffered most. And while they suffered, we were the ones that unknowingly gave the lie to the headlines already being written in London. We found our friends, treated wounds, consoled our families and covered the faces of our dead while ambulances were held outside the stadium for fear that what the police told them was true; the animals had broken from their cages and were out of control.

How readily the rest of England believed it. Anfield, our home, was swathed in funeral robes. The pitch was knee-deep in wreaths and flowers. We draped our scarves and banners from the goal and from the barriers on those famous terraces. Where our family of forty-thousand once cheered and sang, we now drifted soundlessly, sat where we normally stood, wrote poems, and sobbed as we left teddy bears for children that would never hug them. We mourned in our sanctuary while England whipped itself into a frenzied, frothing outrage at those thieving, murdering, fucking Scousers. Police records were being re-written. CCTV footage was being confiscated. We were told our dead belonged to the state until after they had been desecrated by autopsies in search of incriminating evidence. Our dead children were being blood-tested for alcohol.

We were being threatened by police advisors, telling us that if we made a fuss we could expect to have some dirt dug up on our dead. Pipe down. Keep quiet. Shut up. Or else your dead will be dragged through the mud as well as trampled underfoot.

The stories in the press grew ever more obscene. We didn’t have tickets so we broke a gate down and poured in. The red horde trampled over our own children to watch a football game for free. We were no longer the cheeky Scousers, always on the rob, always looking to get something for nothing, always with a quick smile and ready wit. We had graduated even from a reputation as Commies and union activists. We were the looney lefties who took on Thatcher, who led the transport strike and were baton charged on Bloody Sunday in 1911 when we went to hear Tom Mann talk about the corruption of parliamentary democracy. We were the agitators who stood behind William Roscoe to campaign against slavery, even as the merchants built us into the second city of the empire on the trade of human lives. Scousers founded the first school for the blind in the world, the first school for girls, the first lending library, the first school for the deaf, and the first school of tropical medicine. We were the militant Trotskyists who gave free milk and lunches to schoolchildren, built the world’s first public park, cleared the slums, and introduced social housing. And now we had completed our despicable downward spiral and had shown ourselves to be the scum we were. Oh how the media loved it, and oh how England lapped it up. Our city was economically eviscerated, our heart and soul torn out, and now our reputation finally lay in tatters. Thatcher’s managed decline of Liverpool was complete.

Once upon a time, Liverpool was the busiest port in the world and four out of every ten of the world’s ships docked on the Mersey. The world came to Liverpool and Scousers sailed the world. The term Scouse came from Labskaus – a name that Norwegian or German sailors gave to a thin stew made from scrag ends; cheap cuts of meat, usually lamb. To call a Liverpudlian “Scouse” was to try to demean him but we owned it and wore it like a badge of honour. It’s not surprising that we tend to look out rather than in and perhaps this, rather than jealousy of the city’s successes, is why the country so readily believed we were a law unto ourselves. When we stood at Anfield, forty-thousand strong, and sang our club anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we sang it for each other. YNWA became a song of struggle, solidarity, and hope. A prayer to our patron saints who looked down upon us and blessed us. It wasn’t just a club anthem, but our national anthem, and Liverpool was a constant thorn in the side to not just the authorities; we pricked the conscience of a nation that allowed itself to be cowed. The Scouse diaspora extended around the world, but it was rarely welcomed in England. Not after the newspapers revealed the “truth” of the murderers of Hillsborough.

Except we don’t tend to lie down, us Scousers. We’ve always fought back. That is what makes us dangerous. Especially when armed with the truth; the real truth. A truth that has taken twenty seven years to finally be accepted. The police cover-up. The tampered police statements. The new inquest. The child who cried for his mother 30 minutes after the police told her he was already dead. The official, public apology from the Prime Minister, the bastard child of Thatcher’s privilege. And now, possibly, prosecutions for those complicit in the slaughter of 96 ordinary, sober, football fans on April 15, 1989. Most of those to blame are dead already, or too old to be punished. Thatcher, may she burn in a hell of her own making, went senile and never admitted her part. And people tut and shake their heads and wonder why we want to dance on her grave and trample her memory into the dirt.

Even now, after the lies have been exposed, after the public apology, after being vindicated and praised for our actions on that day, we still hear the chants of “Murderers” at football games. After Thatcher’s papers were finally de-classified, revealing the scope of her plans to crush the city that stood up to her, we are still called thieves and bin-dippers—another word for scavengers. Twenty-seven years after Hillsborough we still get told we revel in the morbid, “always the victim, never your fault.” Outside of England we are known for our musical heritage, our sport stars, our comedians, our poets, our writers, our altruism, our heart. Scousers are proud of our wit and humor. We are prouder of our political will to stand up for what is right. Our resistance to those who would have the world believe we murder our own. Today, after 27 years, the courts agree that the burden of guilt that has lain heavy on 96 graves can finally be lifted and placed on the sloping shoulders of those that have evaded justice for a generation. Although there are signs our rehabilitation has begun it will probably take another generation before England admits it.

But we are Scouse, not English, and we know who we are. We know what we did. We don’t need you to tell us. We remember what happened that day at Hillsborough. We remember who the animals were that day. And we remember that when we walk through a storm we hold our head up high and we never walk alone.
JFT96

Lost


There is no lost or found, only varying degrees of lost.
There is no lost or found, only varying degrees of confusion.

So, I lost my drivers license. Again. I lost it last year too, but it was so close to expiring that I just renewed and got a new license. Then I found the old one again, on the copy glass of my printer. Doh! So, I had two licenses, one old, and one new, but the old one expired December 31, so that was okay.

Until I lost my license. Again.

I looked everywhere, because I knew it would turn up. But it didn’t, so I had to go get a new one. I was dreading that line at the Drivers License place. The wasted hours. The disaffected shuffle.

“Oh, you can get an appointment online at that new place,” says KD, my ever-loving, always-helpful, long-suffering missus.

That new place, I thought. It’s not THAT new, but okay, yeah. Note: This should have started the alarm bells ringing. Maybe it did, but the tinnitus has been a bastard lately so I might not have heard it over the ringing in my ears and the sound of barking dogs, squawking birds, and KD being all helpful ’n’ stuff.

So, yeah, get up this morning to the sound of the pre-dawn chorus, bells, woofs, and KD coughing in the shower, and I think, let’s do it. I don’t much look like the Unabomber today, so make myself a cup of coffee, sit down, fill the form out online, and then set an appointment to go throw another $25 at Texas.

My appointment is set 20 minutes into the future.

So, I gulp my coffee, wave my hands at my hair, glance at the mouthwash, grab my keys and wallet, and go flying out the door. I had looked up the address, so I thought I’d put it into the navigation because, let’s face it, once I set that I can grab an extra 20 minutes sleep. Besides, I don’t go anywhere without the navigation these days. Every day I go to school. Every day I drive the same route. Every day, I set my nav for the destination. I dunno, I guess I no longer feel comfortable without the Nav telling me, “Turn here, turn there, slow down, speed up, not THAT lane you idiot, you drive like an old woman!” It makes me feel like my wife is with me.

But, the address isn’t in my car’s GPS. I am entering unchartered territory. It’s just like the Lewis and Clark Griswold Expedition. Whatever, I only have 20 minutes and counting. I gotta go. I push somewhere on the map where I think the address is and set start. Route Confirmed. The roads look clear, the sun is shining, and I have $25 in cash for my new license.

And I hit the freeway. Annnnnd, traffic.

Then my phone pings. “Your wait time is 12 minutes. If you need more time, text M.” Thankfully the traffic is frozen so I hit M and request more time. Dammit, I hope it doesn’t push me back a couple of hours.

Ping. “You have 20 minutes.”

Okay, so the traffic is finally moving, and I am on my way. 20 minutes? Yeah, should make it. No worries. Just head to roughly where the address says and… hold on. I don’t know where I am. What the hell is a Pfugerville anyway?

Ping. “You have reached the front of the queue. Please proceed to Station 6, Area A.”

Wat! That was the shortest 20 minutes since the last time I sat on the exercise bike!

“Your appointment is canceled. If you arrive within 60 minutes, respond J to rejoin the queue.”

Okay, so I’m lost somewhere in the wilds of Pflugerville, so I stop at a Walgreens and google the address and let my trusty phone guide me. After another 15 minutes cutting through brush and pacifying the natives, I see the sign for the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, which is approximately 10 yards from the building, on the opposite side of the divided, 4-lane highway.

Thankfully, my car panicked almost as much as I did and was able to make the turn across the 3 other lanes on just 2 wheels.

Success! And I managed to get here without picking up a speeding ticket, which would have been awkward because, you know, the only drivers license I have is my old, expired one.

Still a bit weird, though. I don’t recognize this building… Oh, is that a lightbulb! Maybe this IS new, and I was thinking of another place. And older place. Idiot!

I press J on the text message as I’m parking my car, ready to stroll in and claim my place.

Ping. “You have reached the front of the queue. Please proceed to Station 6, Area A.”

The fu.. Really?

So, I grab my wallet, the form, and $25 sweaty dollars. I try to flatten my wild Unabomber hair with my hands, but refrain from spitting into my palms to do it—one must maintain some sense of decorum after all—and fast-shuffle into the building. I quickly spot Station 6 and run from the knees down. And I’m handing over my form even before I’m sitting down.

Awesome, I think. I am truly awesome.

“I need a replacement license,” I say. “I lost my current one.”

“Do you have any form of ID?”

“Yes sir,” I say, and, somewhat sheepishly, I explain how I lost my license last year and renewed it, and then found it again, and that’s why I now have my expired license, which I am handing over to the clerk.

“That’s fine, sir,” he says.

“Thank you,” I gush. “Only, I feel so stupid losing my license twice.”

“It happens,” he says.

I nod appreciatively.

“But, sir,” he adds, “what exactly is wrong with this license?”

He holds it up, examining it at arms length.

“That one? That’s my old one. It’s expired.”

“No sir,” he says. “This one is current.”

And I look.

And it is.

And for some reason the ground refuses to swallow me up. Bastard!

I thank him, and apologize, and jump up from my seat like some weapons-grade moron.

“It happens,” he says. Again.

I leave the building, and find my car, which surprises me since I seem to have lost my mind, get in, and call KD. I explain what happened.

“Brain the size of a planet? Idiot!”

Still, be grateful for small mercies, eh? I start the car, press HOME on the Sat Nav, because obviously I can no longer trust myself, and head off back through the wilds of Pflugerville.

I still have no clue what happened, but now I can’t find my expired license, only my current, Ted Kaczynski one. Bastard!

The Long, Robotic Arm of the Law


Courtesy NPR - See this excellet story here: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/03/21/291887341/when-robots-can-kill-its-unclear-who-will-be-to-blame
Courtesy NPR – See this excellent piece on weapons and blame here

ON Friday evening, Dallas police cornered and executed a man.

The man had, we are told, admitted to shooting police. The man, we are also told, said he was angry at the recent deaths of black men at the hands of the police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and wanted to kill white people and especially white police officers.

After hours of negotiations failed, we are told, the police sent in a remote control robot carrying an explosive device, and detonated it, killing the man.

Job done, I have heard people say. One less “terrorist.” He would have gotten the death penalty anyway. We just saved some money and time.

And what about due process? What about justice?

Our society expects its good citizens to live by certain rules, such as not killing people. When people break those rules, the police are the law enforcers trusted to apprehend them and bring them to a place where they can then face the process of justice. In Texas, the judicial system reserves the right to sentence someone to death, and to order the execution.

So what’s the deal? The man was guilty. He would have been sentenced to death. He shot cops so the cops killed him.

I don’t know if that sits easily with you, but it certainly doesn’t with me. Just as we expect the rules to apply to individuals, we must also expect the rules to apply to the institutions we put in place to uphold them.

If someone shoots at a cop and the resulting exchange of fire he is killed, then yes, I can accept it if there was no choice. But we are told that negotiations had failed, and that’s when the robot carrying an explosive device was sent in. They had no choice.

Maybe. But I’d like to know a bit more before we let this slide by.

It takes time to arm and dispatch a robot. This isn’t a reactive decision. This is an action requiring calculation and planning. If we can send in a lethal explosive, we can send in a non-lethal device that would temporarily disable him and allow the cops a closer look at the situation.

We have already been told the man did not kill himself. The robot-delivered explosive device killed him.

But what if he was loaded up with a suicide jacket and it was impossible to disarm him without risking lives?

Then why not tell us this? Because without this information it a subversion of due process to allow the cops to assume the role of judge, jury, and robotic executioner. We have been told some of what allegedly happened, and I am more than willing to believe the events as the police have described them, but it is not enough.

If what we are told is true, there are still several problems with this.

Firstly, we know that the police are not exactly as trustworthy as we would like. We’ve seen that this week, and on so many occasions before, captured on video. That’s not to say all cops are not to be trusted. Clearly this is not true and there are many, many good ones out there who are tarnished by the actions of the bad ones. We’ve seen it in the USA. We’ve seen it in the UK. We know from Hillsborough that the police are capable and willing to conduct a massive cover-up if the truth is not going to benefit them.

Secondly, this execution can never be justified as decision borne of efficiency. To be fair, the police have not said this, but I have seen it argued with the maelstrom of hyper-emotive social media responses to these terrible events. It must be emphasized, however, that justice deserves to cost money. I am not talking about the cost of lawyers. I am talking about the cost of ensuring that justice is fair, impartial, speedy, compassionate and humane, to both the victims of crime, and the criminals. We expect lawyers and judges to be well-educated, sober-minded people, knowledgeable of the law and skilled in its application. We don’t expect lawyers and judges to be police officers, so why we should we allow the police to deliver justice? Justice is much too precious for that. Or it should be.

Justice is the process by which we all agree to set aside personal grievances and allow a process of analytical impartiality to decide guilt and assess punishment. By shortcutting the process of justice we subvert the foundations of a just society, and it is this foundation that stops us from descending into the spiral of perpetual blood feuds; from becoming the Hatfields and McCoys.

But then, when we have a for-profit prison system, and the highest per-capita prison population in the world, perhaps we don’t have a just society after all. The USA has 4.4% of the world population, and yet we have 22% of the world prison population. Is this because US citizens are more criminally minded than anyone else in the world? Or maybe we’re more efficient at capturing criminals and putting them in jail? Or, and I have no data to support this, perhaps it is the fact we have a criminal justice system that allows profit as a motive for building prisons that distorts our application of the law.

Finally, I cannot end this without once again remarking on the weapons question that the US Congress refuses to even contemplate. When we militarize society, or allow it to militarize itself, in return we must militarize our law enforcement officers.

And because there is a whole cost/income issue, and we don’t like paying taxes, it is only ourselves that we hurt when we militarize society. And heaven forbid that we add even more to the cost, like training police officers in conflict resolution and mediation. Police forces, on average, spend 110 hours on firearms training, and 8 hours on conflict resolution. That’s a thirteen-fold disparity. Remember that maxim about Maslow’s hammer?

When the only tool you have is a gun, every problem resembles a shoot-out.

Finally, let’s make this clear: Cops die at a much higher rate in states with looser gun laws. It is a clear and direct correlation. The reports are freely available. Here’s one from Harvard. And here’s a story from the Washington Post that examines data from the FBI and CDC. Let’s also be clear that the states with the loosest weapons laws have the highest gun-deaths. It’s not rocket science, but it seems beyond our politicians’ ability to hear the argument. Maybe they have stuffed their ears with NRA dollars. I don’t know.

But when you hear a politician say Blue Lives Matter (and they do, but let’s look at that whole issue separately), the next question must be: What are you going to do about it?

So, what are you going to do about it?