Tag Archives: america

The Genetic Killer

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Another proposed “solution” to the mass shootings in America is sure to upset many camps; privacy advocates, mental health care advocates, and even those calling for the heads of the murderers. Soon we will have the results of genetic analysis of Adam Lanza, which may be used by scientists to model genetic predispositions of violence, or by defense attorneys in their pleas. This controversial science is being criticized from all sides, condemned as “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.”

via Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks:

But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in a long line of attempts to account for the behaviour of individual killers in terms of genetics.

Perhaps the first attempt was for a case that bears more than a surface resemblance to the Sandy Hook shooting. In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student called Kip Kinkel killed both of his parents before driving to school and shooting 24 students, one of whom died.

In his trial a child psychiatrist argued that Kinkel had “genetic loading” that made him susceptible to mental illness and violence.

His appeal also relied upon this angle. His lawyer argued that “owing to a genetic predisposition, and therefore through no conscious fault of his own, the defendant suffers a mental illness resulting in committing his crimes.”

Perhaps for the first in decades, an appeal to genetics was used in an attempt to explain the killer’s behaviour.

The genetic arguments became more sophisticated with the trial of serial killer Cary Stayner where a psychiatrist and geneticist presented a genealogy of the his family showing how mental illness and violence ‘ran through the family’.

By the time of the trial of murderer Stephen Mobley, the defence based part of their case on molecular genetics – suggesting that Mobley had a version of the MAOA gene that made him susceptible to violence.

It’s worth noting that none of these appeals to genetics have been successful in the courtroom but it’s interesting that in light of the tragic events in Sandy Hook there has been, yet again, a look towards genetics to try and make sense of the killer – this time presumably based on the yet more advanced technology of whole DNA sequencing.

On this occasion, however, the reasons seems less related to issues of legal responsibility and more for scientific motivations, supposedly to better understand the ‘DNA of a killer’.

As the Nature editorial makes clear, this is foolish: “There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence. Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.”

There is a valuable science of understanding how genetics influences violent behaviour but analysis of individual killers will tell us very little about their motivations.

It does, however, reflect a desire to find something different in people who commit appalling crimes. Something that is comprehensible but distinct, alien but identifiable.

This may give us comfort, but it does little to provide answers. In the midst of tragedy, however, the two can easily be confused.

While I have mulled the utility of psychopathy testing before (mostly to weed out serial killers and white-collar criminals), I certainly don’t want to demonize mental illness. I also don’t want to see this turned into a genetic witchhunt, with public registries that would affect hiring, insurance rates, or result in other forms of discrimination or revocation of rights. Not only is it unknown for sure if Adam Lanza (or even James Holmes, for that matter) suffered from mental illness or disorder, but depending on the definitions, as many as 1-in-4 Americans might fall into this camp. This framing also narrowly and unfairly decides what is “normative,” always a dangerous proposition for society.

This sort of ‘registration’ might end up much worse for our liberty and democracy than any gun registration, by orders of magnitude. Especially if, as indicated by our elected leaders and the NRA, we are more concerned with tracking and banning these individuals than providing resources and help.

It sets a scary precedent, but it is also the observable evidence-based realm of science. Should we even go there? What do you think?

Read the artice in Nature, and follow Mind Hacks for more in-depth analysis of complex psychological and neurological issues.

Can Liberals and Conservatives Communicate?

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

There was a great article a couple weeks ago by Lynn Stuart Parramore, an AlterNet senior editor, titled What if Liberals and Progressives Could Learn to Talk to White Southern Men? in which she reminds us that for Southerners, being polite and reasonable are direct indicators of their sense of honor and self-respect. Most of them, despite our political disagreements, don’t want to be seen as rash, close-minded and unreasonable. Lynn Parramore, also Director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project, recounts stories of relating to these individuals on certain issues:

What liberals and progressives don’t seem to understand is that you don’t counter a myth with a pile of facts and statistics. You have to counter it with a more powerful story. And that’s what Obama and the Democrats have repeatedly failed to do. White Southern men want a story that makes them feel proud of America and what it can accomplish. I’m troubled when I hear lefties heap scorn upon the South, partly because I know that the antagonism is precisely what the Mitt Romneys of the world hope for. They want to divide us and keep those regional antagonisms stoked so that the cynical Southern strategy continues to work. Every time a San Franciscan or a New Yorker rails against “rednecks” in the South, he has done Karl Rove’s work for him.

Finding common ground is important, and it’s the sort of thing we need to do to repair the toxic divisions sown by politicians and the media to keep us apart. It is vital if we hope to tackle issues like the debt deal, the fiscal cliff, and yes, even social issues.

There is a lot of ground that conservatives and progressives can share; disapproval of Wall St. tactics, distrusting the very wealthy (“38 percent of the the Bible Belt say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is “very wealthy” than one who isn’t, a lot more than the 20 percent who admit that they would be less inclined to vote for an African-American), fear of drones and the growing surveillance state, and have historically supported some form of a social safety net. Sure there can be a lot of crazy ideas in there too, but liberalism has their fair share of nutjobs, as well.

And conservatives don’t see themselves as the unreasonable ones, anyway. For a conservative, not only is the uncomplicated authoritarian mindset an internally rewarding and often consistent one (also reinforced by parenting),  they also speak a language that focuses on not just dogma and faith, but also common sense and results. If you can reframe arguments in a certain way, conservatives may see a larger picture that begins to cross over with the debater on the left.

Results-oriented language should have been used by the Obama administration to pitch his ideas to the status quo Right, says Richard Tafel, founder of The Public Squared, a public policy training program for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Obamacare, he claims, could have been sold, honestly and openly, but using a different approach:

“Folks, we have universal healthcare in the United States.  It’s called the emergency room and we pay for it. And we cover people’s healthcare right now who don’t pay into any insurance scheme and you’re carrying them. If you’re paying taxes right now you’re covering them. Wouldn’t it make sense for us as a nation to just ask those folks to register and get into an insurance program so we can cut their cost, we can be more proactive with their healthcare, and we can avoid the vast growth of healthcare costs.”

Watch “How to Speak Republican” video from BigThink:

What’s certainly true is that over the past four plus years, conservatives and liberals haven’t even been speaking the same language, let alone having the same conversations when arguing. Until progressives open their minds to respect and include a minority, a populist group, whom they happens to strongly disagree with on religion, taxation, immigration, marriage, foreign policy, and the role of government, there cannot be any real progress. Stubborn and obstructionist, perhaps. But both sides severely believe they are in the right. Regional antagonisms, ivory silos, and othering will not push us together or jumpstart our national dialogue.

Purple America” analysis by Robert J. Vanderbei, Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering atPrinceton University. Also included are 3-D models and population analysis of the 2012 election, and the changing electorate over time.

The Tragicomedy of Paul Ryan

It’s not as if this is the guy that Mitt Romney would have ideally wanted to pick in his perfect campaign. But being compared to a still unpopular Bush administration was not something that Romney, or any Republican, could avoid (though one, you would think, they may have anticipated). Many of the Romney campaign’s moves seemed less calculated than they did desperate. The awkward posturing, self-inflicted wounds, easily avoidable controversies and smug demeanor were all part of his disconnected and (tax) sheltered reality, to be sure, but a healthy dose of media portrayal and recent memory made the Republican’s hill a  very steep one, indeed.

And Paul Ryan was a risky move, while described as a young hot shot intellectual of the right, his reminiscences of Ayn Rand, austerity, entitlement cutting, and hatred of our traditional social safety net ran the risk of alienating 50+ voters and certainly any remaining Republican moderates. Ah, but those businessmen love risks.

Some called it a safe bet, as the campaign and party shifted to energize their base with an inoffensive white male.

Romney’s capitulation to the Republican Party’s conservative, plutocratic base is now complete. It will be Ryan’s ideas that Romney will be under enormous pressure to pursue and implement as president, and his brand of conservatism that Romney is expected to emulate.

John McCain went on to describe the pick as “bold”, though he probably wasn’t the best to take VP advice from. While less radical than Sarah Palin (or at least, radical in other, less obvious, ways), it seemed to be a repeat of 2008. A relative party moderate feints to the right to pick up those far-right votes, hoping to rebrand after the convention and nearer the debates as a centrist-populist. But Paul Ryan had even more going for him than the confounding Palin; he was already a favorite of the right-wing, and he would go on to fire up the rallies.

That weekend:

Opening rallies were packed, Romney now has even more money, media attention, and a change of tone. Romney gains the full Koch election infrastructure, and Ryan’s base-motivation of The Conservative tribe ( group loyalty and identification is more important among conservatives than not among liberals).

Would the choice resonate? This could be a make-or-break opportunity for the rising star. Ryan was one of the favorites long before the decision, as a concerted pressure campaign by prominent conservatives and grass-roots activists specifically wanted him on the ticket. It’s possible, though anything is in that nasty business, that he’ll emerge a top-tier contender for the 2016 nomination.

He had certainly shined in the House, which dominated the GOP’s thinking as much as the GOP dominates the House. Their screaming, obstructionism, hypocrisy, dogma and pork threatened anything resembling progressive action from the Democrats, and Ryan’s proposed budget in particular bore the standards of “Republican othodoxy” going at least as far back as Reagan.

In true Randian fashion, Ryan’s budget…

 …phases out the Earned Income Tax Credit that keeps millions of American families above the poverty line and cuts funding for children’s healthcare in half. The Children’s Health Insurance Program would be abolished, and millions of working-age Americans would lose health insurance. Senior citizens would anguish over whether to pay their rent or their medical bills, in a way they haven’t since the 1960s. Government would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance.

It was described by economists as the least serious budget plan, which doesn’t bring the budget into balance for decades.

Note: Reagan-era Republicans were more in favor of the social safety net, before decades of racial and class division were sown from the top. Pew Research Center, in 1987, found that 62 percent of Republicans said “the government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” but that number has now dropped to just 40 percent ( PDF)

Ryan, a good little corpo-fascist, would shift social benefits previously guaranteed by the federal government away to voucherized plans. Medical care historically grows at much faster rates than the economy, meaning that the indexed vouchers would fall short of the needs and demands of seniors. The plan is to save the government money, while shifting costs back to seniors and undermine the original goals of Medicare. All the while, the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance companies reap the rewards.

From AddictingInfo.org:

The Congressional Budget Office projects that Ryan’s plan would raise seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses by $6,500 per year.

Ryan’s plan assumes an efficiently working free market, and that considerations for medical needs would be the same as other fiscal concerns; they’re not, and people who are sick and dying want a solution that works, not what’s the most low-cost. It’s a captive market, unless you’re willing to die.

Nothing in the Ryan budget tackles costs on the other side, and why would they? That isn’t in the interests of his paymasters an uninhibited and open free-market.

Starting in 2020, Social Security benefits for new retirees would be cut, the eligibility age would gradually be raised and the program would be partially privatized, a huge boon for the private sector. Payouts would “be more uncertain, despite the guarantee, because returns on stocks and corporate bonds are risky.”

Ryan had referred to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme”. And while Social Security is not going broke (both sides often start debating having accepted this false premise), Republican strategies just haven’t worked. Voters rejected a privatization scheme when George W. Bush pushed one because it makes the system far less stable, exposing retirement savings to the volatility of the markets, and disproportionately helps the wealthy.

The Tax Policy Center (no friend of the Romney/Ryan camp), had already found that Ryan’s budget would give people that make more than $1 million a year an additional $265,000 tax cut, on average, on top of the $129,000 cut they get from the budget’s extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Predictably, Ryan, like Romney,  could not identify a single loophole they’d close that could generate some of the revenue to make up for the revenue losses from tax cuts on the wealthy (nearly to 25 percent, by nearly 15 percent from current law). That’s over a quarter-million dollars for the top 1 percent; by half a million dollars for people earning over $1 million, and by $1.7 million for the top 0.1 percent. And by also eliminating the capital gains tax, Romney’s tax rate in one year would be just 0.82 percent under Ryan’s proposal.

Audiences have booed Ryan for the unfair distribution:

Ryan’s Blueprint was modified into Romney’s, failing to raise revenues, shifting costs to state and municipal governments (which would, no doubt, raise their own taxes to meet the increased demand, effectively laundering tax increases so Romney/Ryan wouldn’t get blamed for them).

The Economic Policy Institute estimated his plan would suck demand out of the economy and “reduce employment by 1.3 million jobs in fiscal 2013 and 2.8 million jobs in fiscal 2014, relative to current budget policies.”

According to analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 62 percent of Ryan’s cuts come from food stamps, Medicaid and a handful of other programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable in society.  a significant portion of the rest of his cuts come from education, both K-12 and higher ed. would also slash funding for Pell Grants, and There are other cutsas well to higher education and financial aid.

And without military cuts (spurned by both Romney and Ryan), equivalent cuts would have to be made to transportation, science, education, environmental protection, and domestic efforts.

The toxicity of the Ryan budget has been tested (on a small-scale, granted) before, and the results weren’t good.

Paul Ryan’s austerity seemed aimed at the middle and lower classes, his plan would end the Earned Income Tax Credit, once expanded by Reagan, which millions of parents count on. His policies, like many neoconservatives, would send us sliding back into a Recession or Depression just as in 1937-’38, and how the beloved Reagan administration cut the unemployment rate almost in half.

But Paul Ryan, pawn of the moneyed Koch Brothers’ political enterprise (GOP™), extremist, and poser, had attended biannual conservative strategy sessions with big donors. His special events with the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Wall Street-backed Club for Growth, among other groups, made him a savory VP pick for the “outsider” Romney.

His toxic stances and outright lies would go on to hurt his image, in the short electoral if not long term. Lying about his requests of stimulus money, requests for earmarks at the same time that he insisted he was against earmarks, all the while steering money to campaign donors.

The Huffington Post reported:

“…in at least two instances involving the Department of Transportation, Ryan has pushed the interests of companies whose members have given him campaign donations.” PPG Industries, which contributed almost $7,000 to his campaign, and the National Auto Dealers Association, which had given him $68,500.

Paul Ryan had voted for TARP, the Wall Street bailout. He got out the Republican vote for TARP as well. But it was unregulated money Paul Ryan imagines flowing into the financial sector’s coffers, Ryan voted against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the major financial regulatory response to the crisis. (It might be worth noting that Public Citizen did an analysis that found that House members who voted for TARP and against Dodd-Frank, a club Paul Ryan belongs to and consists mostly of Republicans, received three times as much campaign money from the financial industry as those that voted the opposite; in 2010, with a haul of at least $531,500 for the year).

Ryan voted to scrap the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and replace it with a plan proposed by the Chamber of Commerce, those fair and unbiased privateers. But he hasn’t offered anything specific on derivatives, consumer financial protection, insurance, securitization, ratings agencies, and the shadow-banking industry more broadly.

An immediate scandal broke by the Richmonder blog:

Paul Ryan had lined his pockets from information he had obtained from a now-legendary meeting that took place on September 18, 2008. On that day, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson broke the news to congressional leaders that they would have to approve a bailout to avert a complete meltdown of the financial system.  Ryan had sold the stocks of several major banks that day, while purchasing – surprise! – stock in Paulson’s old firm Goldman Sachs.

Money and politics expert Thomas Ferguson, who has written extensively on the bailout, explained, “Ryan did own some index-based securities, but they stand out in the summaries. They are different from the many trades Ryan was making in individual stocks. It is perfectly obvious that he sold shares in Wachovia, Citigroup and J. P. Morgan on September 18 and he bought shares in Paulson’s old firm, Goldman Sachs, on the same day. If these were index trades, what’s on the form is nonsense.”

And wasn’t this delightfully Republican: Paul Ryan and his wife own shares in oil and gas companies that benefit from tax breaks for Big Oil, and Ryan supports $40 billion in subsides for big oil. In fact, his behavior was not atypical of his fellow legislators. According to AlterNet:

…in-depth research undertaken in 2004 considered to be the baseline work in the field revealed that from 1993-1998, US senators were beating the market by 12 percentage points a year on average. Corporate insiders only beat the market by a measly 5 percent. Typical households, in contrast, underperformed by 1.4 percent.

And though the story was quickly swept under the rug in the news cycle, all of this combined to taint the frame of Paul Ryan, the conservative mathermatical wizzerd. But he wasn’t a sorcelator, he was just another acolyte. Doing “math as a Republican to make himself feel better.” A true believer’s true believer, a Koch Republican, an economic anti-populist of the highest order. An anti-tax, anti-spending purist worshiping at the altar of Ayn Rand and whatever Christ condones rampant greed.

ThinkProgress explain that the philosophy Ayn Rand laid out in her novels and essays was, “a frightful concoction of hyper-egotism, power-worship and anarcho-capitalism. She opposed all forms of welfare, unemployment insurance, support for the poor and middle-class, regulation of industry and government provision for roads or other infrastructure. She also insisted that law enforcement, defense and the courts were the only appropriate arenas for government, and that all taxation should be purely voluntary. Her view of economics starkly divided the world into a contest between ‘moochers’ and ‘producers,’ with the small group making up the latter generally composed of the spectacularly wealthy, the successful, and the titans of industry.”

Her psychopathy would go on to inspire Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Glenn Beck, and devotee Alan Greenspan.

Ryan tried to disavow Rand’s philosophy to Catholics and moderates, but he had already been recently caught on record proselytizing that Rand “makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.” On another occasion, he said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand…. I try to make my interns read it.” And even if he did distance himself from her Virtues of Selfishness, it served to brand him as a flip flopper. A source of great struggle for the inveterate poseur.

He was long ago hewn to the party’s socially radical far-right, having supported a federal ban on abortion even in the case of rape and incest, and in 1999, voted to ban gay couples from adopting children in the District of Columbia.

Ryan co-sponsored legislation to declare that “each human life begins with fertilization,” Ryan has also voted against letting U.S. troops and their families get abortions at military health centers abroad, and to rescind abortion coverage under the federal employee health plan.

He consistently voted against funding women’s health programs, would defund Planned Parenthood and rescind all dollars for family planning grants under Title X (which already cannot be used for abortion).

He voted in 2004 and 2006 for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He also voted against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” as well as hate-crime legislation.

Ryan appeared to agree with Todd Akin about rape, pregnancy and abortion.

True to form, Paul Ryan towed the party line against the President based on pure spite, malevolence and revenge tactics. Ryan attacked Prsident Obama’s stimulus program, but in 2002 supported President George W. Bush’s proposed stimulus spending “to create jobs and help the unemployed,”

During the campaign, Paul Ryan would go on to slam President Obama for adopting Medicare cuts that, until a week before his speech at his alma mater Miami University in Ohio, were openly supported by Ryan himself. He then claimed he actually opposed the cuts before he embraced them (a disastrously Kerry-esque flip-flop). Support for the Romney’s pledge to reverse the cuts would have further complicated the math for both candidates’ repeated vows to rapidly close the deficit. Ryan has consistently opposed measures to crack down on China’s currency manipulation practices, but accused the President of the same. He would go on to lie about Obamacare, even the parts that Romney/Ryan supported. Most erringly, Ryan slammed the President for the closure of an auto plant that closed in late 2008 under George W. Bush. His ‘Oops’ moment may have cost him big.

People began to see him as a shameless opportunist, even hawkishly claiming his sole foreign policy success was that he had ‘voted to send men to war’. For though his family had made its fortune in government contracts for public works, the young Paul Ryan has made his career out of railing against ‘The Public.’

Polls very quickly began to find that a larger swath of Americans were unsettled by Rep. Ryan, or his Medicare plan.  Americans opposed it by a margin of 49 to 34 percent. That’s the same margin as independent voters. Nearly half of Americans said Ryan was a “fair” or “poor” choice for V.P., while just 28 percent said he was an “excellent” or “good” pick.

Criticisms abounded from both left and right almost immediately. He was a “conservative policy scammer” according to economist Paul Krugman.

Republican strategists are privately fretting about the choice. “There are a lot of races that are close to the line we’re not going to win now because they’re going to battle out who’s going to kill grandma first … It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that would have otherwise been safe,” one unnamed Republican strategist told the Hill. “Very not helpful down ballot — very,” an unnamed strategist told Politico.  “This is the day the music died,” another unnamed operative, who is working for a 2012 candidate, added. Yet another told Politico, “The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.”

Even Newt Gingrich famously said: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

Politico summed up their findings:

“In more than three dozen interviews with Republican strategists and campaign operatives — old hands and rising next-generation conservatives alike — the most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election.”

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate had some choice words:

“He voted for the Patriot Act, he voted for the National Defense Appropriation Act, he voted to ban online poker, he’s proposing a budget that gets balanced in thirty years. He is anything but a libertarian, anything but.”

“Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is cackling with glee,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala wrote.

Faith in Public Life, a strategy center for religious groups, opposed Ryan’s budget and Catholic groups claimed the militantly atheist Rand led Ryan to abandon his own faith with a budget that hurts the needy. Ryan was personally harassed by a Catholic protestor last year asking him to denounce Rand’s views and embrace the Bible.

USA Today-Gallup poll showed “Americans rating [Ryan’s] selection more unfavorably than any pick since at least 2000.” Forty-six percent of poll respondents in 2008 rated their initial reaction to Palin “excellent or pretty good.” For Ryan, the number is just 39 percent.

Disastrous news for a floundering party and campaign that picked the Wiz Kid, the Wonk, the Boy Wonder to improve polls. Instead, only 48 percent of voters polled by Gallup described him as “qualified” to be president, besting only Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin.

The powerful swing state voters who ultimately decided the election didn’t need more reasons to reject the Romney train, but Ryan was just that. Unmarried women shifted 10 points toward Obama, along with the Rising American Electorate (net 3-point shift), and independents (net 9-point shift). Even conservatives were swayed, shifting a net 13 points toward Obama.

And though he certainly did help fundraising, it seemed in the end that fundraising was a wash. The country was largely purple, with the populous cities (and thus electoral votes) a deep blue. Paul Ryan may have “brought vision” to the Romney team, but his clear vision was encrusted with cataracts, blinding him and his cohorts to the needs of real Americans. He would go on to do his best fumbling through the many fallacies of Republican dogma, balancing Randian and fundamentalist Christian philosophy, reconciling both corporate and populist messages, and navigating the hazardous differences of his own and Mitt Romney’s obscured policy vision.

The ticket became what they ultimately wanted, a base-energized ‘clear choice’ to Obama, whom they wanted to vote out “above all else.” Americans recognized this clear choice between visions, and chose accordingly. It can be presented no differently now, it should be spun as nothing less than the gold they thought it was mere weeks ago.

But by a long shot, we haven’t seen nor heard the last of extremists like Paul Ryan. Not only was he re-elected handily despite being a no-show in his Wisconsin seat race, there is now an empty field of view to 2016, and somebody ‘immensely proud‘ of his vice-presidential bid could claim some serious chops. Would it be disastrous or calculated? Much of that may depend on how the next four years go, how obstructionist the Republicans may continue to be (or how successful such attempts may be), how much he may appear to be a ‘loser’ after four years, and if or how the GOP retools away from the dangerous scam they have running on the American people. A scam with Paul Ryan’s smiling punim and Mitt Romney’s off-putting grin. A scam the American people recognized and all-too-willingly rejected.

Hate and Paranoia

2012-03-31

As mentioned on prior shows, I believe it is imperative for the attacked mass of humans worldwide, even in our own backyard, to band together against the powerful, predatory, psychotic forces who have wormed their tendrils into every crack of public and (soon) private life. This is made more difficult, of course, when we have been split into ideological camps for so long that many people cannot overcome ethical disputes or biases, vote against their own self-interests, act against their better judgement, or, in some cases, are too far radically gone to partner with an otherwise inclusive movement.

The number of hate groups counted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) last year reached a total of 1,018, up from the previous year and continuing a decade-long trend. Though the conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups first started frothing at the mouths during the Clinton years in response to the events of Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and Waco, Texas in 1993, there was a small dip in enrollment during the early Bush and 9/11 years. But a significant growth in numbers has been seen with the rise of the surveillance state, an over-powerful federal intelligentsia, income inequality, and the obvious nature of the financial sector’s hold on our once-democracy. Unfortunately, these groups are also a reactionary, sometimes violent, opposition to the progress of civil rights and race relations, steeped in conspiracy-mongering and the demonization of Islam, immigration and dehomogenization, homosexuality, and Barack Obama himself. With politicians, pundits, public figures and an entire corrupt media empire built to propagate such divisive falsehoods, it can’t come as any surprise that we’re seeing a rise in anti-gay groups, anti-muslim groups, nativist extremists, sovereign citizens, kkk, birthers, white nationalists, neo-confederates, neo-nazi racist skinheads and even Christian Identity, a radical theology that describes Jews and people of color as biologically descended from “Satan.”

Some of these groups are seditious, others aspire to extreme violence. But all of them exist somewhere on the radical end of a wide spectrum of the hate mindset that America allows for, and that some organizations help engender. In internal memorandum from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) one of the country’s leading organizations against same-sex marriage, a plan was outlined to help its cause by exploiting unease among blacks over the issue.

The undated memo was one of several documents unsealed by a federal judge on Monday in a case in Maine, where the group, , helped finance a successful ballot initiative in 2009 overturning the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage. The organization is partially responsible for Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban) with shady donations from powerful elites such as a staggering $10,000 donation from Governor Mitt Romney’s PAC prior the November election in 2008.

The project’s goal, according to the memo, was to recruit blacks who opposed same-sex marriage to represent the group, and then “provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.” The memo describes an initiative called the Not a Civil Right Project, “The strategic goal of the project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies.”

It is truly a sick and twisted reality we inhabit, that gays and blacks and other minorities cannot feel safe walking the streets of America. Trayvon Martin is yet another in a long history of racial profiling and state-sanctioned (or ignored) murder of minorities, from Emmett Till to today, with decades and centuries of abuse and vigilante racism which white supremacists call a ‘civic duty’.

It’s worth noting that despite nearly 200 attempts, a federal anti-lynching law was never passed in the United States. And even during the catastrophic events of Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans, the unwarranted shooting of blacks was not investigated. Black men, women, and children are beaten, attacked, brutalized, shot and killed by members of the police force, sometimes in their own homes.

The narrative of our nation allows for this. The conflict, the debate rages on because the national conversation delights in it. Only an article in Salon, for example, mentions that under  Florida’s “stand your ground” law, Trayvon was allowed to stand his ground and use force to defend himself. With a strange man following a 17-year-old boy in the dark, in a country where 60,000 children are abducted by strangers a year, he was right to be wary. And if the gun was visible as George Zimmerman approached him, Trayvon would have been allowed to use deadly force against Zimmerman. A Republican sponsor of the “stand your ground” law has indicated in media accounts that, based on the information currently available about the incident, he does not believe that the “stand your ground” law applies to Zimmerman.  It seems that no one has yet asked whether the law would have applied for the protection of Trayvon Martin.

Under the law, as the aggressor in this situation, Zimmerman had no right of self-defense.

  1. The police dispatcher had advised him not to follow or approach Trayvon Martin.
  2. On the 911 call, Zimmerman initially said that he was concerned about break-ins in the area.  Deadly force is not legally authorized to protect property.
  3. Zimmerman said that he thought the “suspect” might be high or using drugs. Both are offenses that do not warrant the use of deadly force in apprehension efforts.
  4. Zimmerman also said, “Those assholes always get away …,”  which clearly indicates that he had decided that Trayvon was guilty of something — he was no longer merely a “suspect.”  So his approach, whether with his gun in hand or concealed, was with the intent to confront a “criminal.” Such an approach would be aggressive rather than passive.

Regardless of if Zimmerman did, in fact, utter a racial slur on the 9-1-1 tape (the case becomes a hate crime investigation if he did), he does not need to be a racist in the extremist sense that some people assert, or his own father disputes. He lives in a society where laws like ‘Stand Your Ground’ offer an assurance to powerless-feeling people by allowing them to wield the basest power there is–violence–with near impunity. It encourages people to be intimidators for fear of intimidation. It is not surprising then that since the law went into effect in 2005 killings in Florida justified by ‘self-defense’ have risen by 283%. We know that the mind can be affected by perceptional changes, even weilding a gun makes a person more biased to seeing others hold guns, research suggests. Add to that the ever-lying-in-wait racist mindset of Americans (or humans), the threat of race violence will always haunt many people of color. There will be more Trayvon Martins in the future if we don’t take every opportunity to publicly and openly discuss how race factors consciously and subconsciously into policy-making.

This is in addition to the paranoia and fear being fed to all of us in America on a daily basis (and for the last decade or so), both real and imagined. The police state is flourishing despite such facts as, as writer Bruce Schneier for the Economist points out, in the entire decade or so of airport security since the attacks on September 11th 2001, the TSA has not foiled a single terrorist plot or caught a single terrorist. The TSA regularly misses guns and bombs in tests and real life. Even its top “good catch”—a passenger with C4 explosives—was caught on his return flight; TSA agents missed it the first time through. Meanwhile the Department of Defense and the White House want control of the internet back (or the cat back in the bag). The FBI is teaching its agents that they could sometimes “bend or suspend the law” in their hunt for terrorists and criminals, along with some pretty racially-charged rhetoric. Photographers across the country, regardless of politics, are being arrested for taking pictures of police (though the forces risk losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil suits for stamping on civil liberties). Some modern science is being corrupted and is dysfunctionalDoctors in Pennsylvania are not allowed to tell their patients of the dangers of fracking they’ve discovered in their communities. And even the NYC Dept of Education wants to ban the word “dinosaur” from standardized tests!

All in their war against all things Awesome. Those of you who are truly Awesome (and you know who you are) will heed the call.

PLAYLIST
Aunt Mary – in the hall of the mountain king
Ska Boss – The Aquabats
Piano Black (Ian O’Brien Remix) – Seatbelts
Four Sticks – Led Zeppelin
Doctor Doctor – UFO
Fireball – Deep Purple
Miles Runs the Voodoo Down – Miles Davis (Tribute)
Mother’s Little Helper – The Rolling Stones
Dream Weaver – Gary Wright
Heffalumps And Woozles – Disney
Lalo Schifrin – Bullitt
Black, Brown And White – Big Bill Broonzy
Season Of The Witch – Donovan
Carsual Swing – Fauna Flash
Escape – Amon Tobin
Rocket Ship – Stark Reality
Stoned Guitar – Human Instinct
Moisture – The Residents
The Sound Waves Reversing – Man Or Astroman
Transcendence – Nujabes + Fat Jon
Sarah Vaughan – Whatever Lola Wants – Buddha-Bar (CD Series)
Dirty Harry – Gorillaz
Redworm – DJ QBert
Spooky – The Puppini Sisters
Alain Goraguer- La Vieille Meurt
Albuquerque – Weird Al Yankovic

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-03-31: Hate & Paranoia by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Will the Student Debt Movement Legitimize Occupy?

The mainstreamies out there are pretty occupied (pun intended) with working more hours for less pay, mortgage foreclosures and a host of other pressures. But for my money, the predatory lending practices, price hikes and unfair or outright fraudulent policies regarding payment, interest, or consolidation will bring Real America closer to realizing the progressive changes we need for the middle class to survive and the country to thrive.

It is the aspiration of nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or creed, to attain higher education. It helps us expand and diversify our minds, meet new and interesting people, live free and wildly independent, study under the tutelage of wizened mentors, access courses, books and topics they otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience. People of any age go to school to grow philosophically, gain skills, learn seemingly secret or arcane knowledge, or, as the marketing departments tell us, to get better jobs and make more money.

Of course, it doesn’t really work that way, with an American workforce still in the shitter, skilled jobs scarce and a growing economic class of people below the rising line of college affordability. Parents and guardians, also burdened with co-signed loans, want what is best for their younger generations, but are crippled by Draconian corporations. A feedback loop of greed has been created by big education dealers like EDMC, usurious loan companies like Sallie Mae, and the collections agencies that sometimes fall under their own banner (not exactly a conflict for Sallie Mae, but a matter of compounding debt and problems for the indebted). If one were to be thoroughly conspiracy-minded, it wouldn’t take much to add a dystopian vision of private industry fueled by underpaid workers (a la Foxconn) enslaved by the debt of their overpriced and now apparently useless education, the return of debtor’s prisons in a private prison industry!

But enough slippery slope arguments, for the tamer future reality is nearly as frightening. No massive conspiracy, but hundreds of small ones perpetrated by the psychopathic CEOs at the top tiers of the power structures in this country, with no regard for the populace “below them” or indeed the very future of the country, the planet, or our species. This is what Occupy is all about, but this message hasn’t entirely translated to the mainstream America who gets their news from Fox, or more likely, doesn’t care to get the news at all.

You will undoubtedly see people criticize any progressive movement on the left, and decry any debt absolution, industry regulation, activism or protest movement as leftist propaganda and overreaching government attacking poor, defenseless billionaires such as Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae. For every true story told at occupystudentdebt.com, one could likely find a snide youtube comment tearing them down. There will always be reactionary bullies and their herds of sheep. A perfectly natural (and primitively primate) revulsion of the youthful vigor for liberty.

Fortunately, the facts are overhwhelming, as student loan debt in America tops $1 trillion, some are seeing their loans triple due to interest, face ridiculous fees, with no way to negotiate, no bankruptcy protection, and no regulation. Since 1980, average tuition for a 4-year college education has increased an astounding 827%. Since 1999, average student loan debt has increased by a shameful 511%. Student debt collectors are incentivized to violate federal aid laws, and even Obama (who topped the list of those fighting for student debt reform) and the Department of Education rely on debt collectors profiting from student debt. And Republicans are again trying to double the interest rates for student loans. Which is really the overreaching government action?

If it looks like a bubble and acts like a bubble…

Unfortunately, as we have seen with issue after issue, facts do not necessarily sway voters. We need to reframe the issues, changing perceptions and public opinion, alter the very conversation in this country of where the money is going and why the prices are fixed as they are.

The student loan corporation heads (like all the clueless and insulated rich) must have received quite a shock upon realizing that the protest movement of their victims is coincidentally somehow both young and educated.

But once the bubble of student loan debt bursts, and make no mistake, it will, Americans will watch as the same drama plays out again with corporate bailouts and vulture capitalism that nearly wrecked us so recently.

Prices for education will not drop (they haven’t for homes), as the economy takes another hit unemployment will rise with no regard to the educated, skilled, or fealty to young innovators, things we once valued and prized in this country. Even the parents and grandparents will take up their torches and pitchforks if and when the shit makes such total abstract art of the fan. The first economic shitstorm of mortgage usury took everyone by surprise, and an unaware America could be fed nonsense and propaganda contrary to the facts or their better interests. But as George W. Bush once stated in his American dialect, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Years later, Americans are more skeptical of rushing off to foreign wars in Iran or Syria, compared to our gullibility in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re more savvy if we’ve lived through it once before in recent memory.

There are other options, of course, than utter collapse. Floating Universities and Open Education Resources are becoming more popular online for a fraction of the cost of similar coursework and lectures. Certain degrees in technology are being offered by once-exclusive institutions at affordable rates (even cheap as free), and tuition can be pre-paid or locked-in early to save money. Blogging itself is increasingly being seen as a scholarly activity. Some incentives exist to get courses for cheaper, though overall, scholarships and federal grants for financial aid are diminishing, and even community college costs are rising. And despite their innovation and necessity, let us not allow such cost-saving measures deter us from fixing the regulatory holes hemorrhaging the system.

A current bill is being proposed by Rep. Hansen Clarke, who might lose his seat due to Republican redistricting, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 (H.R. 4170), that would give those Americans a way out debt by letting them pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 10 years. America is slipping behind with every year in education! We all need to educate ourselves, get informed, and act! Sign a petition, write your congressmen, or march in the streets if you can, to occupy our very right to be educated.

In the end, if worst comes to worst, they may not even call it Occupy, and they may not consider it ‘legitimized.’ But the looming financial hubris cannot be sustained, and unregulated will come to a point where no American can ignore it.

Video

Why I love America

Would someone please tell me where it is that these things are happening so that I can go be there right now?