Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon


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More on the Ferguson Grand Jury (Michael Brown, Pt. 6)

Last week I posted two links, one from Addicting Info and one from Daily Kos, that seriously discredited the testimony of Witness 40 in the Ferguson grand jury trial concerning Michael Brown’s murder by Darren Wilson. Witness 40 is the witness who claimed to have seen Michael Brown beating up on and charging Officer Wilson in the moments leading up to the shooting. You may remember that Prosecutor Robert McCulloch repeatedly called into question the testimony of witnesses whose version of events differed from Officer Wilson’s. However, he and his team couldn’t find any reason to keep this particular witness off the stand, despite the fact that everything about her story was suspicious.

This week, The Smoking Gun and Gawker have picked that story up along with Raw Story, Huffington Post, and several other news sources. I’ve included links to several of them below.

  • “Witness 40”: Exposing A Fraud In Ferguson (The Smoking Gun)
    Referred to only as “Witness 40” in grand jury material, the woman concocted a story that is now baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury, a panel before which she had no business appearing. While the “hands-up” account of Dorian Johnson is often cited by those who demanded Wilson’s indictment, “Witness 40”’s testimony about seeing Brown batter Wilson and then rush the cop like a defensive end has repeatedly been pointed to by Wilson supporters as directly corroborative of the officer’s version of the August 9 confrontation. The “Witness 40” testimony, as Fox News sees it, is proof that the 18-year-old Brown’s killing was justified, and that the Ferguson grand jury got it right. However, unlike Johnson, “Witness 40”–a 45-year-old St. Louis resident named Sandra McElroy–was nowhere near Canfield Drive on the Saturday afternoon Brown was shot to death.
  • Report: Darren Wilson’s Key Witness Lied About Everything (Gawker)
    [Essentially notes on The Smoking Gun article. Reproducing this here for anyone that might want a short version of the article posted above.]
  • Hannity favorite ‘Witness 40′ in Wilson grand jury is a liar and convicted felon: report (Raw Story)
    “I know what I seen,” McElroy told skeptical investigators. “I know you don’t believe me.” The FBI special agent interviewing McElroy doubted she was actually at the scene of the shooting, and noted that McElroy had expressed a desire to help Wilson. “So you are posting racist things online and you are telling us, you know, and you are telling us, you know, your account and then there are videos that doesn’t show your car,” the special agent said. “And then there is a map that shows you couldn’t (have) left the way you left from… But, obviously, we find out what people’s motivations are when you say you posted things online that are racist and you come in here and tell us an account that supports Darren Wilson… You raised money for Darren Wilson.” State prosecutors asked McElroy to testify during the grand jury hearing one day after she met with federal investigators, and she told the panel that she had written down her account the day of the fatal shooting – although she hadn’t mentioned the journal the day before. She returned 11 days later, as prosecutors asked, with handwritten journal pages.
  • One challenge for Ferguson grand jury: Some witnesses’ credibility (CNN)
    Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, believes the state wanted to avoid presenting a clear-cut case that would have led to an indictment. “Prosecutors generally present very streamlined cases to the grand jury,” she says. “As a prosecutor you should not present witnesses in front of the grand jury that you wouldn’t present at trial. The prosecutors didn’t want to indict,” Hostin says. “That’s why they conducted it that way.” [CNN’s coverage of witness 40 is tucked away among other witnesses whose testimony was shown to be false, which I think is odd considering they were so widely discussed before, but CNN is also the only major network I could find with a quick search that was actually covering the story at all.]
  • Ferguson Witness Exposed by Smoking Gun Was Also Discredited in Front of Grand Jury by Prosecutors (Slate.com blog, The Slatest)
    As the Smoking Gun does mention, McElroy returned to the grand jury on Nov. 3 with a new story about why she was in Ferguson. In testimony in Grand Jury Volume 18, McElroy reads from a journal and attests that she was in fact traveling to the area to conduct personal research to help her understand black people (!). But the Smoking Gun doesn’t mention that, in those same grand jury records, a prosecutor says (in front of jurors) that McElroy had admitted she may have gotten details of her earlier testimony off the Internet, points out that her journal entry from the morning before Brown’s death is suspiciously detailed, and asks McElroy directly whether she may have made up or “dreamed” the events that she’s testifying about. Another prosecutor tells McElroy she believes McElroy is “confused” about her own account and grills her about her animosity towards blacks and her use of racial slurs. [As several commenters point out, Witness 40 is the only one that supports Darren Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown charged him, yet prosecutors knew she was, at the very least, a questionable witness. So why present her testimony to the jury at all? And did McCulloch mention her testimony as reliable in the press conference, but go to such pains to discredit other witnesses?]
  • Key Witness In Michael Brown Case May Not Have Actually Seen Him Die, Report Says (Huffington Post)
    Among the dozens of witnesses who offered conflicting versions of events, Witness 40’s story stood out for the way it “tracked” to Wilson’s account, The Smoking Gun noted. Even without McElroy’s testimony, the evidence that the grand jury considered has been criticized as flawed. Wilson, after shooting Brown, washed the evidence off his body at the police station, and the first officer to interview Wilson didn’t bother taking any notes. As ThinkProgress noted, these and other errors may have helped tip the case in Wilson’s favor.


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Video: Dälek, “Police State is Nervous”

New music by Dälek, from the soundtrack to 6 Angry Women. Don’t just put it on in the background. Make sure you watch the video.


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The Ferguson Grand Jury Was a Sham (Michael Brown, Pt. 5)

Below is an extension of the “Today’s Reads” posts I’ve been putting up over the last couple of weeks. The two posts here concern the Michael Brown Grand Jury and the presentation of a fake/unreliable witness that prosecutor Robert McCulloch must have known was lying. I feel that, among everything I’ve read, these stories deserve extra attention. This is just one of the many problems that reporters have discovered after combing through the Ferguson Grand Jury documents. You can read about others, including how Darren Wilson was allowed to destroy evidence and how the prosecution misled the jury concerning Missouri state law, by looking through the other “Today’s Reads” posts.

  • Ferguson Prosecutor Busted Presenting Fake Witness Before Grand Jury (VIDEO) (Addicting Info)
    So, you are Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. You have a grand jury investigation with the entire world watching. One of your witnesses in support of the officer is revealed by the FBI to have made up her entire account. What do you do?Apparently you present a discredited witness to the grand jury anyways. He played the FBI interview, which revealed that Witness 40’s car was not at the location, that 40 could not have exited in the manner described, that 40 did not even tell anyone her story until over two weeks after the shooting. They tore her apart, showing that she changed her story several times while sitting on the stand. For example, in her interview, 40 claimed to have made no contact to the police for two weeks, then later claimed that she did contact them several times before agreeing to be a witness. And that is not the only occasion they caught her changing her story, with other times her lack of knowledge of the crime scene, how her journal and testimony did not match, how the exit for the complex did not exist where she claimed all being revealed. That interview, found on pages 86-184 of Grand Jury Testimony Volume 15, completely discredits her as a witness.

    Then, fully knowing this, Bob McCulloch brought her before the grand jury, and entered her hand written journals filled with racist language into the record. And this testimony, by a discredited witness, is the one cited by right-wing media outlets in their attempts to support former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. Claims of Michael Brown charging like a bull? Her account, and only her account. (More after the link)

  • Please read Witness #40’s FBI interview and grand-jury testimony. Just read it. (Daily Kos)
    To understand just how discredited is Witness #40, you need to read at least part of her interview and testimony.The night of the first Ferguson riots, Witness #40 was posting racist rants online, including [brace yourself, for real]: “They need to kill the fucking niggers. It is like an ape fest.”

    She formed an organization to raise money for Darren Wilson and to get schools to send him Christmas cards. For real.

    She’s the person who allegedly came home and wrote down the events of August 9 — but she didn’t reveal this fact until months later, at the very, very, very end of her testimony to the grand jury, long after she’d been contacting county officials, been interviewed by the FBI and DA, and testified to the grand-jury, and the split-second before that jury adjourned for the day, only then does she mention the ‘journal’ entry.

    The only person she told was her ex-husband, but he has mental issues so he allegedly doesn’t remember it. How convenient.

    She emailed her ‘friend’ in Ferguson, which would at least prove she her story that she was coming to visit, but she deleted that email. How convenient.

    The FBI cannot find any video of her or her car being where she said it was, including in a Ferguson gas station near the crime scene, which — she testified — she both walked in and drove through. She lied about how she exited the parking lot (because the FBI checked and that exit has long been blocked, although the roadblock doesn’t show up on the Mapquest page she used).

    She ‘refreshed’ her memory by reading right-wing websites about the shooting.

    She was convicted of check fraud c.2007. She apparently had a traumatic brain injury from a head-on collision some time ago. She seems to have some other mental challenges herself, since age 15. (More after the link)


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Today’s Reads 007 (Michael Brown, Pt. 4)

Further coverage of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice murders, the Grand Jury trials, recent protests across the country, and other related stories found on the Internet:

  • Viral photo of Ferguson protester doesn’t withstand close scrutiny (Politifact)
    A photograph that went viral purports to show a protester in Ferguson, holding a sign that said, “No mother should have to fear for her son’s life every time he robs a store.” However, the photo was manipulated by a social media user, who later acknowledged the alteration. The change in wording turns the sign’s message completely on its head, so we rate the claim Pants On Fire.
  • England abolished grand juries decades ago because they didn’t work (Public Radio International)
    “You might get some witnesses who say they saw Darren Wilson, the police officer, shoot Michael Brown and he wasn’t resisting arrest. Then, of course, you heard Darren Wilson himself and you hear what he says,” Rozenberg says. “So this was really what we would regard as a trial, but a trial behind closed doors.” And that’s what happened with the Ferguson grand jury. So if this is the case, why do we still have a grand jury system? What’s the purpose of a secret procedure in a country that that televises court proceedings? Rozenberg isn’t actually sure. “Why not have everything out in the open and let both sides say, openly, in a public forum, to an ordinary jury what their arguments are — and then let an ordinary jury decide?” he asks.
  • New lie in the shooting death of Tamir Rice discovered: Police never saw the tip of the gun at all (Daily Kos)
    “Due to this dangerous loss of composure during live range training and his inability to manage this personal stress, I do not believe Ptl Loehmann shows the maturity needed to work in our employment,” Polak concludes. “For these reasons, I am recommending he be released from the employment of the city of Independence. I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies.”
  • Missouri AG confirms Michael Brown grand jury misled by St. Louis DA (Daily Kos)
    There are two clear possibilities here.  Either the St. Louis County District Attorney’s Office was aware of this conflict and deliberately attempted to give the Grand Jury a false impression of the law, only to slip in a unclear, unexplained “correction” at the last minute which would be far too weak to override the prevailing impression gained from weeks of testimony which had been reviewed through a jaundiced lens… Or… The St. Louis County and other DA’s throughout the state have been regularly misleading juries and grand juries with the mistaken and wrong impression that probable cause is not required for law enforcement before deliberate deadly force can be deployed legally because they just don’t know any better.
  • Grand jury rejects criminal charges in death of Robert Saylor, man with Down syndrome (Washington Post)
    In February, the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore ruled Saylor’s death a homicide as a result of asphyxia. On Friday, Smith said that the report indicated that Down syndrome and obesity made Saylor more susceptible to breathing problems.
  • The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate (Rolling Stone)
    The press and the people who don’t live in these places want you to focus only on the incidents in question. It was technically a crime! Annoying, but he should have complied! His fault for dying – and he was a fat guy with asthma besides! But the real issue is almost always the hundreds of police interactions that take place before that single spotlight moment, the countless aggravations large and small that pump up the rage gland over time.
  • Unequal Treatment of 2 Protesters in Eric Garner Case, One White and One Black (New York Times)
    “But Mr. Perry, a white man, and Mr. Torres, a black man, say what happened to them showed disparate treatment in subtle and stark ways. The president of the seminary has written to Mayor Bill de Blasio to suggest that the experiences of the students were ‘an object lesson’ for retraining officers; the Police Department said it would have to review the details of the matter.”
  • I Hope “Die-In” Protests Made You Late Getting Home (Philadelphia Magazine)
    “It’s damned inconvenient to be a black man in America… So if the protesters got in your way this week: Good. If they made you stop and have to think about whether they were justified, better. If they made you cranky and offended, well, that’s the best thing of all. Maybe your life needs a little disruption. A man died, needlessly. It happens all the time. You’re going to be home a bit late because of it? That’s ok. You’ll live.”


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Today’s Reads 006 (Michael Brown, Pt. 3)

Further coverage of the Michael Brown murder and related stories from across the Internet, including essays related to the Eric Garner murder in New York City:

  • Unorthodox police procedures emerge in grand jury documents (Washington Post)
    “An officer driving himself back? Wrong. An officer booking his own gun into evidence? Wrong,” said David Klinger, an expert on police shootings with the University of Missouri at St. Louis who is also a former police officer. “The appropriate investigative procedures were not followed.’’ A 2013 Justice Department manual on processing crime scenes, designed in conjunction with police departments across the country, addresses what experts said was perhaps the most serious breach of protocol after Brown was killed: Wilson washing the blood off his hands.
  • Ferguson Grand Jury Evidence Reveals Mistakes, Holes In Investigation (Huffington Post)
    Talking with police investigators and before the grand jury, Wilson claimed that Brown had grabbed at Wilson’s gun during the initial incident in the police car and that Brown’s hand was on the firearm when it misfired at least once. Wilson also told police that he thought Brown would overpower him and shoot him with his own gun. “I was not in control of the gun,” Wilson said. Eventually he regained control of the weapon and fired from within the car. Investigators could have helped to prove or disprove Wilson’s testimony by testing his service weapon for Brown’s fingerprints. But the gun was not tested for fingerprints. An investigator argued before the grand jury that the decision was made not to test the weapon because Wilson “never lost control of his gun.”
  • How Not to Use a Grand Jury (The New Yorker)
    But the goal of criminal law is to be fair—to treat similarly situated people similarly—as well as to reach just results. McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else. Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved. This is the opposite of the customary ham-sandwich approach, in which the jurors are explicitly steered to the prosecutor’s preferred conclusion.
  • Darren Wilson’s Grand Jurors Were Told To Base Decision On Law Ruled Unconstitutional In 1985 (Addicting Info)
    You will not find another legal proceeding in which jurors and Grand jurors are simply handed a law, and then weeks later handed a correction to that law; and then the Grand jurors are simply left to figure out the difference in the laws by themselves. That is actually something you would do in a law class,” O’Donnell said. “Figure it out by yourself.”
  • Five ugly and uncanny parallels between lynchings and police killings in America (Daily Kos)
    In spite of extremely egregious circumstances surrounding all lynchings and many police killings, it is a rare occurrence for the killers to be held liable. While definitive stats are hard to come by, some estimate that over 95 percent of the perpetrators of lynchings or police killings never served a single day in jail. During the days of public lynchings, it was popular for entire families to come and view them. Photos, as seen in the exhibit, Without Sanctuary, were regularly taken of the lynched bodies on display and made into postcards that were sent all over the country. Little legal interest truly existed in bringing the perpetrators to justice. In modern America, even in extreme cases like the March, 2012 shooting death of high school football star Kendrec McDade, police claimed they heard McDade take multiple shots at them and even saw the flash of the bullets exiting his gun, but it turned out McDade was unarmed. Police were completely exonerated. The constant exoneration of police who kill unarmed African Americans lends itself to the belief that, like during the time of lynching, little true interest exists in bringing justice to the families of the victims.
  • The American Justice System Is Not Broken (Deadspin/The Concourse)
    America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest. The best argument you can make on behalf of the various systems and infrastructures the country uses against its black and brown citizens—the physical design of its cities, the methods it uses to allocate placement in elite institutions, the way it trains its police to treat citizens like enemy soldiers—might actually just be that they’re more restrained than those used against black and brown people abroad. America employs the enforcers of its power to beat, kill, and terrorize, deploys its judiciary to say that that’s OK, and has done this more times than anyone can hope to count. This is not a flaw in the design; this is the design.


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Today’s Reads 005 (Michael Brown, Pt. 2)

More coverage of the murder of Michael Brown and other related articles from across the Internet:

  • How Often are Unarmed Black Men Shot Down By Police? (Daily Kos)
    91% of the people killed by Police in Chicago in 2012 were Black? 87% in New York? 100% in Saginaw and Rockford?  I gotta admit even after focusing on this subject for over 30 years, since Ron Settles was killed, I find that kind of shocking. The report goes on to say that 47% of these killings (146 cases) occurred not because of the person brandishing a weapon (as noted above less then 30% of them HAD a weapon, or were even thought to have a weapon), it’s because the Officer or Citizen – “felt threatened” and were in “fear”.  In only 8% (25 cases) did the suspect fire or discharge a weapon that wounded or killed Police or others while Officers were on the scene.
  • The law may have spoken but the Ferguson verdict is not justice (The Guardian)
    So when it comes to the lethal use of force the police do not just constitute a special category, but a protected and elevated one. In this “nation of laws” those charged with enforcing the law evidently operate above it, while the judiciary exists not to mediate between the police and the public but to defend them from the public. And they employ these privileges with great prejudice. According to analysis by ProPublica, black kids are 21 times more likely than their white counterparts to be killed in police shootings. If white youths were killed by police at the same rate they would die at a rate of more than one a week.
  • Amid Conflicting Accounts, Trusting Darren Wilson (The New York Times)
    The officer’s testimony, delivered without the cross-examination of a trial in the earliest phase of the three-month inquiry, was the only direct account of the fatal encounter. It appeared to form the spine of a narrative that unfolded before the jurors over three months, buttressed, the prosecutors said, by the most credible witnesses, forensic evidence and three autopsies. But the gentle questioning of Officer Wilson revealed in the transcripts, and the sharp challenges prosecutors made to witnesses whose accounts seemed to contradict his narrative, have led some to question whether the process was as objective as Mr. McCulloch claims.
  • Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid (The Atlantic)
    “Property damage and looting” is a fairly accurate description of the emancipation of black people in 1865, who only five years earlier constituted some $4 billion in property. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968—the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books—is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement. “We could go into meetings and say, ‘Well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here,'” said SNCC organizer Gloria Richardson. “They would get just hysterical. The police chief would say, ‘Oh no!'”
  • What do the newly released witness statements tell us about the Michael Brown shooting? (PBS News Hour)
    We read and analyzed more than 500 pages of witness testimony and compared each statement to those given by Wilson. Below is a chart comparing several key details of the officer’s report to the witness statements. Was Brown facing Wilson when he was shot, or was his back turned to him? Did Brown have his hands in the air, or were they reaching toward his waist?
  • Think riots have never caused change in America? Think again (Al Jazeera America)
    Many of those criticizing destructive behavior in Ferguson over the past week have cited the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s as the model for nonviolent, orderly resistance. Peaceful demonstrations — sometimes in the face of violent policing and provocation — were certainly a key feature of the civil rights era. So, too, were outbreaks of violence such as the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles. While Dr. King never advocated violent and destructive behavior, he also said it would be “morally irresponsible” to condemn riots “without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” – “These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention,” King said in a 1968 speech. “And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”


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Killer Mike, Ferguson MO, Michael Brown

Killer Mike in USA Today:

As recent research has revealed, rap lyrics have been introduced as evidence of a defendant’s criminal behavior in hundreds of cases nationwide, frequently leading to convictions that are based on prosecutors’ blatant mischaracterizations of the genre. Ignoring many of the elements that signal rap as form of artistic expression, such as rappers’ use of stage names or their frequent use of metaphor and hyperbole, prosecutors will present rap as literal autobiography. In effect, they ask jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, to secure guilty verdicts.

And on CNN:


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Today’s Reads 004 (Michael Brown, Pt. 1)

Articles covering Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri and Robert McCulloch’s abuse of the grand jury system. Includes photographs of Darren Wilson’s alleged injuries following Brown’s death:

  • It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did (FiveThirtyEight)
    Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.
  • Ferguson tragedy becoming a farce (Washington Post)
    One might give McCulloch the benefit of the doubt, if not for his background. His father was a police officer killed in a shootout with a black suspect, and several of his family members are, or were, police officers. His 23-year record on the job reveals scant interest in prosecuting such cases. During his tenure, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police in his jurisdiction (the roughly 90 municipalities in the county other than St. Louis itself), and probably many more than that, but McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted a single police shooting in all those years. At least four times he presented evidence to a grand jury but — wouldn’t you know it? — didn’t get an indictment.
  • These Are the Photos of Darren Wilson’s “Injuries” (Gawker)
    In the aftermath of Brown’s death, as Wilson essentially turned himself into a missing person, various reports were circulated about the severity of his injuries. One, passed around conservative circles, purported to show Wilson with a broken eye socket—that story was quickly debunked. ABC News reported that a source said Wilson suffered a “serious facial injury,” but these photos certainly seem to refute that characterization.
  • Why We Won’t Wait (Counterpunch)
    The criminal justice system is used to exact punishment and tribute, a kind of racial tax, on poor/working class Black people. In 2013, Ferguson’s municipal court issued nearly 33,000 arrest warrants to a population of just over 21,000, generating about $2.6 million dollars in income for the municipality. That same year, 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of traffic stops in Ferguson involved black people, this despite the fact that one in three whites was found carrying illegal weapons or drugs, while only one in five blacks had contraband.
  • The St. Louis County Prosecutor Implicitly Conceded the Need for a Trial (New Republic)
    The problem with this is that we already have a forum for establishing the underlying facts of a case—and, no less important, for convincing the public that justice is being served in a particular case. It’s called a trial. It, rather than the post-grand jury press conference, is where lawyers typically introduce mounds of evidence to the public, litigate arguments extensively, and generally establish whether or not someone is guilty of a crime. By contrast, as others have pointed out, the point of a grand jury isn’t to determine beyond a shadow of a doubt what actually happened. It’s to determine whether there’s probable cause for an indictment, which requires a significantly lower standard of proof.
  • St. Louis Prosecutor Bob McCulloch Abused the Grand Jury Process (New Republic)
    In effect, McCulloch staged a pre-trial trial in order to vindicate his personal view of Wilson’s innocence. But grand juries simply aren’t the proper forum for holding a trial. The most obvious reason is that they’re not adversarial settings. The prosecutor gets to present his or her view, but there’s no one to present the opposing view—a rather key feature of the criminal justice system. This isn’t a problem when the prosecutor believes the defendant is guilty, since the result is an actual trial. But when the prosecutor stage-manages a grand jury into affirming his view of the defendant’s innocence, that’s it. That’s the only trial we get.


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Today’s Reads 003

More collected articles, posted here for sharing and easy reference.

  • The ALEC Problem Is Even Worse Than John Oliver Thinks (Media Matters)
    In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, “will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group’s state strategies.” The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group’s membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.
  • The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare (Rolling Stone)
    But the idea that Holder had cracked down on Chase was a carefully contrived fiction, one that has survived to this day. For starters, $4 billion of the settlement was largely an accounting falsehood, a chunk of bogus “consumer relief” added to make the payoff look bigger. What the public never grasped about these consumer–relief deals is that the “relief” is often not paid by the bank, which mostly just services the loans, but by the bank’s other victims, i.e., the investors in their bad mortgage securities.
  • Triumph of the Wrong (New York Times, Paul Krugman)
    In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.
  • Obstruction And How The Press Helped Punch The GOP’s Midterm Ticket (Media Matters)
    Why would the president, who’s had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more “partisan combat.” It’s not. It’s extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
  • Are you reflected in the new Congress? (The Guardian)
    Despite the record number of women and the first black senator elected in the south since Reconstruction, the new US Congress will still be largely male and largely white. A person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or age doesn’t necessarily mean they represent the views of a whole demographic, but lack of diversity could result in certain concerns not being heard – or not heard loudly enough. Click the categories below to find yourself in the new Congress. This graphic will be updated as more seats are called.
  • Michael Pisaro blurs edges of performance, perception (Boston Globe)
    “The idea of affect and of emotion, I really think that’s why we write music, or one of the main reasons why we write music, and I’m always conscious of that,” Pisaro said. He paraphrased a former teacher, Ben Johnston: “You have to be clear about what you want to hear, but that doesn’t automatically mean that everybody else will want to hear it.
  • The Best Baby Picture Ever of a Planetary System (WIRED)
    Astronomers have taken the best picture yet of a planetary system being born. The image, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the high-altitude desert in Chile, reveals a planet-forming disk of gas around a young, sun-like star, in great detail.


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Today’s Reads 002

A collection of articles read over the last couple of days actually. Collected from the Internet for sharing and easy reference:

  • How Did Gandhi Win? (Dissent Magazine)
    That the Salt March might at once be considered a pivotal advance for the cause of Indian independence and a botched campaign that produced little tangible result seems to be a puzzling paradox. But even stranger is the fact that such a result is not unique in the world of social movements. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s landmark 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, had similarly incongruous outcomes: on the one hand, it generated a settlement that fell far short of desegregating the city, a deal which disappointed local activists who wanted more than just minor changes at a few downtown stores; at the same time, Birmingham is regarded as one of the key drives of the civil rights movement, doing perhaps more than any other campaign to push toward the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. This seeming contradiction is worthy of examination.
  • Effects of climate change ‘irreversible,’ U.N. panel warns in report (Washington Post)
    The report said some impacts of climate change will “continue for centuries,” even if all emissions from fossil-fuel burning were to stop. The question facing governments is whether they can act to slow warming to a pace at which humans and natural ecosystems can adapt, or risk “abrupt and irreversible changes” as the atmosphere and oceans absorb ever-greater amounts of thermal energy within a blanket of heat-trapping gases, according to scientists who contributed to the report.
  • The IPCC is stern on climate change – but it still underestimates the situation (The Guardian)
    At this point, the scientists who run the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must feel like it’s time to trade their satellites, their carefully calibrated thermometers and spectrometers, their finely tuned computer models – all of them for a thesaurus. Surely, somewhere, there must be words that will prompt the world’s leaders to act. This week, with the release of their new synthesis report, they are trying the words “severe, widespread, and irreversible” to describe the effects of climate change – which for scientists, conservative by nature, falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola.
  • Inventing Climate Change Literature (The New Yorker)
    Climate change has occasioned a lot of good journalism, but it poses as tremendous problems for imaginative literature as it does for electoral politics, and for many of the same reasons. The worst effects aren’t yet here, and even when global warming is the suspected culprit behind a hurricane or a drought, its fingerprints are never to be found on the scene of any particular disaster. Fictional characters, like flesh-and-blood citizens, have more urgent concerns than the state of the climate twenty years hence. Nor is it easy for people, real or imaginary, to feel any special moral relationship to the problem. Oil-company executives may be especially guilty, and environmental activists especially virtuous. The rest of us, in the rich countries, are culpable to such a similar degree that we might as well be equally innocent. So it is that a crisis at the center of our collective life exists for us at the margins of individual consciousness, as a whisper of dread or a rustle of personal implication. The main event of contemporary civilization is never, on any given day, the main event.
  • Science Graphic of the Week: How Magic Mushrooms Rearrange Your Brain (Wired)
    Investigating psychedelia wasn’t the direct purpose of the experiment, said study co-author Giovanni Petri, a mathematician at Italy’s Institute for Scientific Interchange. Rather, psilocybin makes for an ideal test system: It’s a sure-fire way of altering consciousness. “In a normal brain, many things are happening. You don’t know what is going on, or what is responsible for that,” said Petri. “So you try to perturb the state of consciousness a bit, and see what happens.”
  • Sweden Gives Recognition to Palestinians (The New York Times)
    The Palestinian leadership welcomed the move, which came amid growing criticism and frustration in Europe and the United States of Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel fears that the move by Sweden could lead other influential European countries to follow suit, a trend Israeli officials say would pre-empt the results of future negotiations over a Palestinian state with agreed borders. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Israel said in a statement Thursday that the decision by the Swedish government to recognize a Palestinian state was unfortunate and would strengthen radical elements and Palestinian recalcitrance.


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Today’s Reads 001

Articles I read today, pulled from the Internet for sharing and easy reference.

  • The Cowardice of Bill Maher’s Anti-Muslim Bigotry (The Nation)
    With powerful media personalities like Maher perpetuating the notion that Americans should associate the horrible atrocities committed by ISIS with their Muslim-American neighbors, it shouldn’t be surprising if anti-Islamic sentiment continues to grow. That possibility alone is enough reason to condemn Maher’s fear-mongering. When one delves deeper and uncovers the simplistic, reductionist nature of Maher’s argument, it is clear he is also guilty of intellectual laziness, if not dishonesty.
  • Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops? (TomDispatch)
    Will the “Concert for Valor” mention the trillions of dollars rung up terrorizing Muslim countries for oil, the ratcheting up of the police and surveillance state in this country since 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost thanks to the wars of George W. Bush and Barack Obama? Is anyone going to dedicate a song to Chelsea Manning, or John Kiriakou, or Edward Snowden — two of them languishing in prison and one in exile — for their service to the American people? Will the Concert for Valor raise anyone’s awareness when it comes to the fact that, to this day, veterans lack proper medical attention, particularly for mental health issues, or that there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country? Let’s hope they find time in between drum solos, but myself, I’m not counting on it.
  • Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required (The New York Times)
    There is nothing illegal about depositing less than $10,000cash unless it is done specifically to evade the reporting requirement. But often a mere bank statement is enough for investigators to obtain a seizure warrant. In one Long Island case, the police submitted almost a year’s worth of daily deposits by a business, ranging from $5,550 to $9,910. The officer wrote in his warrant affidavit that based on his training and experience, the pattern “is consistent with structuring.” The government seized $447,000 from the business, a cash-intensive candy and cigarette distributor that has been run by one family for 27 years.
  • Coming Soon To A Coast Near You: Vertical Tsunami Shelters (Popular Science)
    In the wake of the devastating Japanese tsunami in 2011 and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, other communities on the West Coast have begun considering similar structures to shelter the thousands of people who live in low-lying areas. Other places around the world are also looking into vertical evacuation strategies. In Japan, a few different structures have already been built, and in Indonesia, researchers at Stanford are looking into reinforcing existing buildings to make them safe spaces in the event of a tsunami. 
  • The Fruit of Another (The Paris Review)
    Hilarion’s temptations inspired two very striking—and very different—French nineteenth-century paintings, both of which testify to his suffering more acutely than Jerome’s storytelling. The first, by Dominique-Louis-Féréol Papety, sees an almost catatonic Hilarion visited by a topless seductress with an elegant array of fruits, wine, and hors d’oeuvres, a surreal counterpoint to the forbidding landscape. What a brilliant thought on Papety’s part to have Hilarion’s arms outstretched—in protest as much as in longing, it seems—his face sick with fear and confusion [includes images].


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Quote of the Day: “Why are beggars despised?”

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? – for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.

A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other business men, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

George Orwell, from Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)


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William Bennett, Cut Hands, and Fascism

cut_hands_album_coverFinding several music websites unwilling to publish his work, Josh Hall recently posted an essay to his blog about William Bennett, the Cut Hands project, and Bennett’s by now well-known affinity for taboo subjects and for far-right politics and imagery (meaning, in this case, fascism).

Response to the essay has been about as varied as you could expect. Some reactions are incredulous or condescending (“Of course William Bennett is making offensive art! Duh!”), others have been more glowing (“thanks for finally bringing this up!). I’m sympathetic to the questions that Hall raises, though I think he muddles his message with the accusations he levels against Blackest Ever Black and Tony Wakeford. Whether or not it sits well with you, Bennett’s already addressed his use of fascist imagery and language on his blog. He might have been an idiot, but as Hall acknowledges, it’s unlikely that he was ever pro-Nazi.

The bits in the article about colonialism, racism, misogyny, and the appropriation of foreign cultures are much stronger, and the accusation that Bennett is entirely responsible for the Extreme Music from Africa compilation is way more interesting than any of his juvenile fascist obsessions ever were.

I’ve read several negative reactions to the article that bring up artist’s rights or censorship—the idea being that Hall is putting unfair ethical expectations on Bennett’s music by criticizing his use of African art. After all, virtually everyone borrows ideas from other cultures these days. That can’t be as insidious as Hall suggests it is, right?

But the issue at hand, as best as I can tell, is the quality of Bennett’s work, not whether or not he should be allowed to produce it, or whether or not an artist can borrow ideas from another culture without somehow trivializing it.  Hall simply argues that Bennett produces poor art, and that part of what makes it so poor is its obliviousness . He then goes on to point out that shockingly few writers have written about the political and philosophical particulars of that art.

It seems to me that Hall finds the lack of discussion surrounding Bennett’s music just as troubling as the music itself (though I think the music isn’t nearly so interesting as that; it’s how Bennett dresses his records that catches my attention). How could anyone, for instance, pass up the opportunity to press an interviewee who thinks “Buchenwald is just a name?” And why is it that we are forgiving of confrontational artists who make radical statements, but so indignant toward audiences who are confrontational or skeptical in return? Is art so sacrosanct that we can’t question it, even when it offends us or stirs some doubt in the back of our minds? Is it that we think there is only one right way to read Bennett’s work?

Some of the issues Hall raises are enough to make me question what Bennett is up to, and that is all he needs to do. That’s what good journalism is supposed to be about. It’s with that in mind that I recommend reading Hall’s essay, whether you find that his analysis is accurate in the end or not.

 

 


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Required Reading: Kansas House Passes Anti-Gay Legislation

gay-rightsIf you haven’t heard the news, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would give business owners the right to refuse services to individuals they believe are gay:

The Kansas House has approved a bill aimed at keeping individuals, groups and businesses from being compelled to help with same-sex weddings.

The House’s 72-49 vote Wednesday sends HB 2453 to the Senate.

Supporters describe it as a religious freedom measure. Opponents contend it will encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill would bar government sanctions when individuals, groups and businesses cite religious beliefs in refusing to recognize a marriage or civil union, or to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to a couple. Anti-discrimination lawsuits also would be barred. Individual workers and government employees also would get some protections.

The bill covers private and public employees. Government agencies would still be required to provide services, but individual clerks could refuse to serve same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs on marriage.

Andrew Sullivan has written an incredible response to the passing of the bill, which you should absolutely read. Above and beyond the irony of its justification, Sullivan thinks the bill spells trouble for the Republican Party in general:

If I am confident that this law is, in fact, a huge miscalculation by the far right, I do not mean to discount the very real intimidation and fear that many gay Kansans and their friends and families are experiencing right now. It’s appalling that any government should seek to place itself institutionally hostile to an entire segment of society. But in civil rights movements, acts of intemperate backlash are also opportunities. If this bill becomes law, and gay couples are fired or turned away from hotels or shown the door at restaurants and denied any recourse to the courts, the setback to the anti-gay movement could be severe, even fatal.

This is about Kansas, but it is also about the Republican party. Are there any Republicans willing to oppose this new strategy? Do the GOP’s national leaders support it? As for Democrats and the left more generally, they are lucky in their enemies.

Be sure to read the entire thing. For me, the most important part comes in the middle, where Sullivan rallies against the apparently Christian rationale for the bill’s existence: “As for the allegedly Christian nature of this legislation, let’s not mince words. This is the inversion of Christianity.”

That’s 100% on the mark. And among Christians who have any kind of sense in them, I think it’s important to rally against this idiotic perception that Christianity must be anti-gay. The opposite is the case. If Christians hope to realize the good news they so passionately believe in, they’re going to have to start seeing past sexuality. Or, better yet, accepting it.


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Photo of the Day: 16 October 1968

tommie_smith_john_carlos_olympics“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” — Tommie Smith

45 years ago yesterday. From Wikipedia:

On the morning of 16 October 1968, U.S.A. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Australia’s Peter Norman finished second with a time of 20.06 seconds, and the U.S.A.’s John Carlos won third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to the podium for their medals to be presented by David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.” All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia’s White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals.

Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove. For this reason, Carlos raised his left hand as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd.

From The Nation:

Yet the intersection of the Olympics and injustice remains if anything more pungent than in 1968. Today, the Olympics arrive on the shores of a host-nation like a neoliberal virus, displacing the nation’s poorest residents in the name of massive construction projects. Global corporations, with exclusive International Olympic Committee seals of approval, force local businesses to shut down as they brand the festivities like it’s a NASCAR event. The poor of a city are herded off, jailed or even disappeared in the name of making an Olympic city pristine for visiting dignitaries. Today, we are witnessing the mass evictions of thousands Rio de Janeiro’s poorest residents in the name of the 2016 games, and, as in London in 2012, the introduction of surveillance drones to monitor the proceedings. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has outlawed demonstrations for sixty days before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics amidst both a shocking attack on the nation’s LGBT population, as well as an unprecedented carnival of graft.

Would athletes be taking one hell of a risk by speaking out? Look at what Carlos, Smith and Norman suffered. First, there was the media barrage as the Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute” and the Chicago Tribune called their actions “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” But the most shameful display was by a young reporter for the Chicago American named Brent Musburger who called them “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers”, a slur for which he has never apologized.

And more from The Guardian:

The BBC paid them $1,000 in cash for an exclusive interview. Will you not benefit from the notoriety and publicity the protest has generated, they were asked. “I can’t eat that,” Carlos said. “And the kids round my block can’t eat it. They can’t eat publicity, they can’t eat gold medals. All they want is an equal chance to be a human being.”

The truth of this observation was clear after their return to America. After a near-violent scrum of reporters assaults them in Los Angeles, they board a second flight to San Jose. “Once we got back we were ostracised, even by our own,” Smith said. “Folks were scared, man. No jobs. We couldn’t find work. People even told us, ‘We can’t get close to you guys because we have our own jobs to protect.’ These were my friends. At least, they were my friends before I left for Mexico City.”


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The Rights of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

dzhokhar_boat_infraredJust before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture on Friday night, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that Tsarnaev should be treated as an enemy combatant of the United States, allowing investigators to interrogate him without first Mirandizing him.

Following his apprehension, it was made clear that the FBI intended to do just that, by invoking a little known “public safety” exception clearing them of the legal obligation to read Dzhokhar his rights.

On Saturday, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald tackled this story, asking what rights Tsarnaev has as a suspect in a potential terrorist bombing.

He charts the history of the Miranda public safety exception from a 1984 Supreme Court trial through to the Department of Justice’s 2011 expansion of that rule, concluding with an analysis of what it means for ordinary US citizens. In the process, he catches President Obama and other liberal politicians in an embarrassing and troubling allegiance with Senator Graham and even former President George W. Bush:

It is bizarre indeed to watch Democrats act as though Graham’s theories are exotic or repellent. This is, after all, the same faction that insists that Obama has the power to target even US citizens for execution without charges, lawyers, or any due process, on the ground that anyone the president accuses of Terrorism forfeits those rights. The only way one can believe this is by embracing the same theory that Lindsey Graham is espousing: namely, that accused Terrorists are enemy combatants, not criminals, and thus entitled to no due process and other guarantees in the Bill of Rights. Once you adopt this “entire-globe-is-a-battlefield” war paradigm – as supporters of Obama’s assassination powers must do and have explicitly done – then it’s impossible to scorn Graham’s views about what should be done with Tsarnaev. Indeed, one is necessarily endorsing the theory in which Graham’s beliefs are grounded.

Dzhokhar became a naturalized citizen in 2011, but because he is suspected of participating in a terrorist act—something that is by no means proven nor clear—and is thereby considered an enemy combatant, his constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial is being denied. As should be plain, and as Greenwald makes very clear, this establishes a precedent for the government to deny those same rights wherever it fears a terrorist threat is present, even if it involves citizens born in this country:

Needless to say, Tsarnaev is probably the single most hated figure in America now. As a result, as Bazelon noted, not many people will care what is done to him, just like few people care what happens to the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, or Bagram, or in Yemen and Pakistan. But that’s always how rights are abridged: by targeting the most marginalized group or most hated individual in the first instance, based on the expectation that nobody will object because of how marginalized or hated they are. Once those rights violations are acquiesced to in the first instance, then they become institutionalized forever, and there is no basis for objecting once they are applied to others, as they inevitably will be…

Figuring out what constitutes terrorism is tricky. It’s therefore equally tricky labeling and distinguishing terrorists from criminals. But since Dzhokhar’s alleged involvement in the Marathon Bombing looks like terrorism, it might as well be. Nevermind that there’s little evidence to distinguish what he allegedly did from what other violent criminals have done, as in Aurora, CO, Sandy Hook, or Columbine.

Some would even like to label Army Pfc. Bradley Manning and Wikileaks as terrorists, and it’s a short jump from there to equating political dissenters with enemy combatants. Go far enough down that road and the denial of Miranda rights begins to look positively Orwellian—just so long as you might be a terrorist, your rights are fragile and can be broken. It’s easy to see how collapsing distinctions between criminals and terrorists could quickly create legal problems for everyone.

With such broad interpretive powers in the DOJ’s hands, it’s hard not to feel a little frightened by the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Assuming that he is a terrorist effectively gives our government the right to disregard what he earned when he became a United States citizen. And if his rights go, then so do mine.


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Reality Check: Wealth (Re)Distribution in America

After reading that the Dow Jones industrial average had hit an all time high on Wednesday, I read this Mother Jones article about something called “speedup,” originally published July/August 2011 issue. Speedup is when a employer asks its employees to do more work for no additional pay or benefits. This phenomenon is, in part, one of the reasons big companies have made a speedy recovery since the economic crash of 2008. Employers squeeze extra productivity out of fewer employees, which improves their bottom line and drives profits up.

It’s the sort of statistic that allows economists and politicians to claim that our economy is on the rise and that we’re in a recovery. Profits are up and business is good, from a certain perspective. But if you think about it, speedup can only be good for the employers, not the employees. From Mother Jones:

 For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top: By 2008, the wealthiest 0.1 percent were making 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (adjusted for inflation). And just to further fuel your outrage, that 22 percent increase in profits? Most of it accrued to a single industry: finance.

In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on—the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games—paid off. For them.

Businesses are making money and increasing productivity by giving Americans more work, and Americans are only too happy to accept—after all, a demanding, backbreaking job with low pay is better than no job and no money. And if that first job isn’t enough, some of us will take a second job rather than fight for our wages at the first.

Then I found the above video and it made me a little sick. I’ve looked into the sources a little and believe they are reliable; if they are, America is much worse off than anyone wants to admit. Just ask yourself if you want any small group of people (the top 1% of wage earners) owning more than 50% of the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

Beyond the numbers there’s the lie this phenomenon exposes. We live in a culture that champions hard work and condemns laziness—but as a country we refuse to reward that hard work by increasing the standard of living for everyone. Instead, we make excuses for why executives should have even more money and we dismiss those who disagree as Marxists or communists or some other dirty term from the 1950s. We refuse to acknowledge that the rich already have more than they could possibly need, probably at the expense of the poor, and we defend them because some small part of us hopes that we might be that rich someday.

“Redistribution of wealth” is a dirty phrase in this country, but I think its plain that we’ve been redistributing our money for close to three decades now. The burden of extra work and lower wages has been saddled on the working class—and the working poor—so that our richest citizens can become even richer.

In the last thirty years, the money has always been redistributed—not down, but upwards.