A community responds to police abuses

The St. Louis Symphony was interrupted right after intermission with about 50 people dropping banners and singing “Justice for Mike Brown.” The woman pictured above was caught on camera, apparently wondering why her previously-pleasant evening was being so brazenly disrupted. The fellow beside her, looking up at the balcony, was filmed moments previously, smiling broadly. The St. Louis American piece reports that “Some onlookers were outraged and start spewing expletives. Others stood up and started clapping. Most seemed stunned and simply watched.“

The singing was a response to the Michael Brown killing and its tense and sometimes chaotic aftermath. “On Saturday afternoon, Brown was shot to death by a police officer while apparently walking, unarmed, from a convenience store to his grandmother's apartment in Ferguson, a working-class suburb north of St Louis, the main hub of this midwestern state.” Ferguson police later introduced a videotape of Brown exchanging angry words with a convenience store clerk. It initially appeared that Brown stole some cigars, but a look at the whole tape showed he did no such thing and Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot Brown, wasn't aware of what had happened in the convenience store in any event. 

Cartoons of course, routinely present situations in exaggerated and hyperbolic ways, as the one pictured here does. But the line between hyperbole and real life becomes blurred when other police officers in the same geographical region demonstrated a similar police response to another citizen. “Cops say [Vonderrit Myers Jr.] fired a gun.” Problem is, non-police eyewitnesses, who saw Myers beforehand, maintain that all he had in his possession was a sandwich. There has been no independent confirmation that Myers ever had a gun. Police Chief Sam Dotson, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, claims that a 9mm Ruger handgun was retrieved from the scene and ballistics tests are being run on it, but Myers was already wearing an ankle bracelet for a charge of gun possession and both the mother and pastor of Myers say he absolutely did not possess a gun. 

A piece from Popular Resistance adds details that cast even more doubt on the charge that Vonderrit Myers Jr. posed any sort of threat to the off-duty police officer who shot him. The piece also goes into the question of why our police seem to be getting out of control lately and apparently now pose a greater threat to unarmed citizens than to criminals. Privatization seems to be a real driver of this new unaccountability. Privatization changes the mission of police forces so that what the public needs is no longer important. What the private interests who pay the salaries of police need becomes the new priority. A very disturbing case was that of San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald and his pregnant girlfriend. She called for police assistance as he was beating her, public policemen showed up, but a private policeman was already on the scene. “In the case the first officer on the scene worked for the 49ers and represented the interests of Ray McDonald.. What was said? Not said? Was the victim intimidated? Was evidence hidden, destroyed? Was McDonald prepped by his employee as to what he should say or not say?”

Another problem was pointed out by The American Prospect. Exactly how are brutal, out-of-control police punished for bad behavior? The answer isn't comforting and goes a long way to explain why police feel invulnerable. If cases are won and civil penalties are assessed (Hard to do as the public is very supportive of police departments generally), then steep payments are made. But payments generally come out of city funds, and by extension, they come from city taxpayers, not by the particular police department that behaved badly. As police operating budgets are rarely affected, there's no reason for police to avoid bad behavior. 

So how do we judge the response of the St. Louis region's black community to police abuses? The US Social Forum (Coming to Philadelphia in June 2015) takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to resolving social issues, or a “full-court press” as basketball players would say. It's good to use street demonstrations and a peaceful demonstration is always better than a violent one, but getting involved in voting and long-term organizing is a critically necessary element to achieving long-term success. That's just what the black community of the St. Louis region is doing. “...3,000 Ferguson residents (total population is 21,000) have registered to vote. And that’s good. Certainly some of the problems that led to Brown’s killing have to do with a political system that is not representative of the citizens it is charged with governing. In a town that is two-thirds black, only one of its six city council members is also black. If more than 6 percent of the black residents had voted, there would likely be a different mayor, and perhaps a different police chief.”

Actions like the singing at the St. Louis Symphony and more routine, less photogenic actions like registering new voters, are both necessary elements in making progress towards a more fair and inclusive society.


The St. Louis Symphony was interrupted right after intermission with about 50 people dropping banners and singing “Justice for Mike Brown.” When the office who shot Brown was identified, the Ferguson police muddied up the issue by introducing a tape of Brown exchanging angry words with a convenience store clerk. The full tape showed that Brown did not commit a crime. Is the cartoon here an exaggeration of police-citizen relations in the area? Unfortunately, not by much. The later shooting of Vonderrit Myers Jr. appears to be even less defensible than the Michael Brown shooting was. Why are these shooting happening? Privatization of police and the lack of any direct connection between penalties and the misbehaving police departments both appear to be factors. What to do? Well, the US Social Forum (Coming to Philadelphia in June 2015) takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to resolving social issues and the black community of Ferguson appears to be taking that approach as it's getting lots of voters registered.


Tech support companies

I was getting very frustrated with my Windows computer ( My Linux one was working fine) as the browser (Chrome) kept opening up new tabs and windows and giving me a "warning" about websites that I knew weren't problems. It kept urging me to call a particular number (Which I had absolutely no intention of ever doing) and finally got to the point where it interfered with the operation of the browser that the whole thing was becoming useless.

I took the computer to a tech support service and they fixed it up some. They improved the speed and reduced some of the clutter that I had been experiencing. I used Internet Explorer as my browser for awhile as that's the Windows default browser, bu eventually opened up Chrome again. %$^#@!! The problem that I brought it in for was still being a problem!!! As the problem hadn't occurred in Explorer, I decided to go to the tech support site for Chrome.

Boo-yah! With three exchanges, the problem had been identified and solved! My experience with the tech support company was not a waste, but it brought back to me how many times I and the data tech people in the Navy and I disagreed. Yeah, they were smart and informed, but I often knew just as much about certain aspects of computers as they did.


The Equalizer

The Equalizer reminds me of Machete in that the hero appears very physically formidable and can take and dish out lots and lots of physical abuse. Liked the relationship between our hero and the sweet young woman he sets out to avenge. He also relates well to the ordinary folks he works with during his day job.   


Double Indemnity

Finished watching the 1944 movie “Double Indemnity” today. Quite good! Barbara Stanwyck has two big challenges, both of which I believe she passes with flying colors. The first is that she has to make us believe that she's so incredibly sexually desirable that Fred MacMurray (Yup, the dad in My Three Sons) loses all sense of reason and proportion and is actually willing to kill for her. Not only that, she does so while staying within the highly restrictive Hays Code, a code that states: “Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown” and demanded, among other things, that couples couldn't share a double bed, but had to sleep in two singles.

Second, her step-daughter Lola (Jean Heather) describes how Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) carried out a cold and cruel act and then stood there without showing any sign of remorse. Stanwyck does a good enough job building the character of Phyllis that Lola's description of Phyllis comes across as entirely believable.

The description given by Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) of always listening to his “little man” is a hilarious side-note. I also understood why films after the Hays Code felt the need to allow at least a few sympathetic characters to get away with it all and to make their way to sunny resorts.


New York City People's Climate March Sep 21

How big is the upcoming march going to be? The Green Party of Philadelphia has a number of buses going from several points in town. Normally, buses leaving from the city for out-of-town marches and rallies leave from just one central point. Now the Greens are confident they can fill buses from all over. I was on a conference call last month where we discussed people using the floors of churches to put their sleeping bags on. Even back then, all such space was already booked. 350.org has a section on the march which is our go-to, central point of information. Why is the organization named 350? In order for human beings to be safe, the CO2 in our atmosphere should be at or below 350 parts per million (pre-industrial civilization had around 275 ppm) and we're now above 400 ppm. 

But this issue has been around for awhile. Why is this march now gathering so much enthusiasm and attention? My own thought is that global warming has previously had a direct, observable effect on far-off places, Pacific islands, the Arctic and the Antarctic, etc. Now, Venice, Italy and Norfolk, VA are affected. Both land masses are heavy and weighted down by cities and are thus sinking very slowly into the sea, but that doesn't account for all of the gains that the sea has made on both cities. In both cases, sea levels from global warming are clearly having an effect. Parts of Norfolk, the main US Navy base, are regularly flooding with salt water, so the Navy is very intimately aware of the effect that global warming is having as they can see the sea rising right in their front yard. 

There are many other effects that global warming is having, “Glaciers everywhere are melting and disappearing fast, threatening the primary source of clean water for millions of people. Mosquitoes, who like a warmer world, are spreading into lots of new places, and bringing malaria and dengue fever with them. Drought is becoming much more common, making food harder to grow in many places.” 

Is global warming implicated in violent world events like the Arab Spring? Evidence indicates that warming is a “stressor.” It's not a cause of violence and revolution, but it adds to the volatile mix that causes social upheavals. 

A person prominently featured as a speaker for the march is the reporter Naomi Klein (Author of The Shock Doctrine), who argues that our economic model may not be compatible with human survival.


Calling “Taps” on PhillyIMC

"Taps, taps, lights out. All hands turn into your bunks. Maintain silence about the decks. The smoking lamp is out in all designated spaces. Now taps."

Navy shipboard announcement sounded each night at 2200 hours (10:00 pm)

Well, PhillyIMC had a really good run from mid-2000 to mid-2014. But we've now been threatened by lawyers to pay for an image that was taken from them without their permission back in 2010. We're busy fighting this off and are hopeful that we might get away with either a reduced payment, or better yet, no payment at all.

Can PhillyIMC be revived someday? Sure, but we're using Drupal 5 as our Content Management System (CMS) and Drupal 7 is available. Certainly, our CMS can be upgraded, but we've published almost 50,000 articles and I went through nearly 700 of them. About one-quarter of those articles aren't worth keeping as they no longer have photos or sound-files or movie files attached. There's a larger proportion of good pieces later, but clearly, there's a lot of stuff that we may as well delete before upgrading the CMS.

Also, in order to fend off the trolling lawyers, we need to make sure that all of the images in use on the site are either photos that were taken by the authors or are otherwise copyright-free images. I believe the site is pretty much free of spam or unsolicited advertising, but I can't guarantee that until a careful, detailed examination of all of the articles is made. Going through the 700 articles, I found about 10 that were just copied and pasted from other sources and contained no reference to their original source. Stories like these should all be footnoted.

In other words, there's lots and lots of work to be done before the site can be re-opened. So yeah, we're announcing “Taps” on PhillyIMC. Will we ever re-open it? Will we ever be able to sound “Reveille” on it? That's an excellent question.


Gaza 2014

I truly hate the issue of Gaza versus Israel as I have good friends on both sides. It's about the only issue that currently splits liberals from each other.

The fellow here makes a good case for the Israeli side. Essentially, Israel is under siege by a foe that will settle for nothing less than their complete destruction. Hamas doesn't want to simply co-exist with Israel, they want to annihilate the state and all its people.

The case that Hamas makes to the people of Gaza is also pretty straightforward. The people of Gaza are locked into an “open-air prison” that even Pope Francis condemns. They have no seaport of their own, no airport, their border is sealed on all sides, their access to fishing on the sea is very restricted. I haven't heard much lately about residents of Gaza being hungry or having their food supplies restricted, but that certainly did happen in the past, until Egypt had its revolution and partially opened their border with Gaza.

“So, all right, Mr. Smarty-pants, what would you do? How would you square the circle?”

Back during the late 80s, I did a lot of reading on guerrilla war, including several books on the Vietnam conflict from left-wing, middle-of-the-road and right-wing perspectives. My following of the Iraq War has very largely confirmed the conclusions I reached back then.

In every guerrilla movement, there are two components, the hard-core fighters, the ones who run things and compose the propaganda and who promise to take over when the fighting is done. Then there are the people at large. The people are the ones constantly just trying to live their lives, to get out of the line of fire, to raise crops and children as best they can amid all the gunfire. It is quite impossible for the hard-core fighters to succeed without at least the tacit cooperation of the people.

Thousands of South Vietnamese, appalled by Diem’s corruption and brutality against Buddhists and suspected communists, rushed to fight with the NLF. Those unwilling or unable to fight – including women, children and the elderly – gave support in other ways, such as providing food, safety and information about enemy troop movements.

So how does an occupier win a guerrilla war? By allying oneself with the people and thus robbing the fighters of the support without which they can't survive. As Mao Zedong had put it: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” (There's a more comprehensive quote here, on a page where Mao emphasizes that guerrillas must treat the people well, so as to gain their enthusiastic support) so if one “drains the sea” by addressing and solving or at least mitigating the grievances of the people, the hard-core fighters will be left high and dry and will not gain power.

It is of course possible that the Palestinian people in Gaza will still be motivated to annihilate the Israelis after their conditions are softened and mitigated and their existence is rendered to be less than a concentration camp, but people in general tend not be fanatics and if they find they can live their lives, stay out of the line of gunfire and raise crops and children in a relatively unmolested fashion, fanaticism tends to die in those circumstances.

The people of the Middle East have demonstrated this through their attitude towards America over the past decade and a half. They have shown that “The publics in every nation polled in both 2008 and 2009 showed an increase in confidence in Obama compared to Bush--on average 37 points.” Obama was, and remains, much less aggressively in-your-face than Bush was and so maintains a much higher degree of popularity than his predecessor did.

I believe that Israel would do far better to try and separate the Palestinian people from the hard-core fighters of Hamas via policies that lessen the harshness of their lives than through the current policy of collective punishment.