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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Demonstrations Get Complicated

The Daily Escape:

Summit Lake with view of Mt. Rainier WA – 2020 photo by monzar

 “I feel like a survivor from an age that people no longer understand.”Olivia de Havilland

So true for Wrongo. The video below shows one of Trump’s paramilitaries pepper spraying a Vietnam Vet. Not for anything he’s doing, or for anything he is saying, but simply because they can. The video was shot by Andrew Kimmel, who is at the Portland protests every night. Wrongo urges you to follow him:

pic.twitter.com/WDwOKem2he

The vet’s name is Mark Hastie. He was a medic in Vietnam. He’s pleading with federal agents to heed the warnings of history, and respect the oath they took to defend the people of their country. Hastie says that he has mental scars from his time in Vietnam, and that these paramilitaries will have them too, if they continue their authoritarian ways.

It’s worth noting that in Portland most nights after midnight, a few protesters escalate the confrontation which, to that point have been largely peaceful. Bottles, cans and fireworks are thrown, some try to rush the temporary fencing installed around the courthouse. That’s when the paramilitaries move in and harm the protesters.

The AP had reporters with the paramilitaries last night. Here’s some of what they saw from inside the courthouse: (brackets by Wrongo)

“[at around 11pm]…someone fired a commercial-grade firework inside the fence. Next came a flare and then protesters began using an angle grinder to eat away at the [temporary courthouse] fence. A barrage of items came whizzing into the courthouse: rocks, cans of beans, water bottles, potatoes and rubber bouncy balls….

Within minutes, the federal agents at the fence perimeter fired the first tear gas of the night.”

Ultimately, by dawn the next day, the paramilitaries had cleared the protesters away from the courthouse, and both sides retreated to lick their wounds.

Yesterday, the WaPo had an opinion piece by E.D. Mondainé, president of the Portland branch of the NAACP, saying that the message of the protests about the murder of George Floyd and the response by the Black Lives Matter movement is getting lost in the ongoing confrontations with Trump’s paramilitaries: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“….we need to remember: What is happening in Portland is the fuse of a great, racist backlash that the Trump administration is baiting us to light…..If we engage them now, we do so on their terms, where they have created the conditions for a war without rules, without accountability and without the protection of our Constitution.”

Trump’s plan of escalation seems to be working. The original protesters wanted less police violence and more accountability. But the protest now is against anonymous armed agents sent to suppress protest.

Another thing lost in the Portland protests is that Trump officials admit off the record that they are sending federal troops into cities in order to create “viral content”:

“One of the officials said the White House had long wanted to amplify strife in cities, encouraging DHS officials to talk about arrests of violent criminals in sanctuary cities and repeatedly urging ICE to disclose more details of raids than some in the agency were comfortable doing. “It was about getting viral online content,” one of the officials said.”

This takes us back to the Spanish-American War in 1898. Before the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor, the New York Journal sent Frederic Remington, the distinguished artist, to Cuba. He was instructed to remain there until the war began. Remington sent this to William Randolph Hearst:

“W.R. Hearst, New York Journal, NY:
Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return. Remington.”

This was the reply:

“REMINGTON, HAVANA:
Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war. W.R. HEARST.”

“You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war”. You doubt it? Look at this:

Trump is now apparently sending more Federales to Portland. So what’s the endgame? Having set the fire, Trump will now try to make it a raging inferno.

And, protests are growing across America:

We no longer know who is demonstrating, there are too many “false flag” operators everywhere in America, as shown by who was behind the arson in Richmond, VA.

What will bring us out of our current free fall?

If Biden wins in November, he’ll inherit an America with 15%+ unemployment, tens of millions more homeless people than we have currently. Hunger will be widespread, and COVID will still be working its way through our population.

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What’s Up With All the Fireworks?

The Daily Escape:

Temple of Luxor, Luxor, Egypt – photo by Hossam Abbas. The temple dates from 1400 BCE. It has been a Roman church and remains a mosque today.

Over the past month, every city, town, and village has been lit up with fireworks. This happens every year: Some neighborhood yahoo will buy firecrackers and more, often travelling out of state to get what they want. Then for a few days up to and including July 4, they are fired off as dusk settles on your town.

But this year is different. We saw well beyond the usual, including professional-size explosives being detonated every night. Watch this video shot by a drone over Los Angles on July 4:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

In most ways, these are actually more impressive than a professional fireworks display, since it is spontaneous, and performed so broadly by so many people. Is this the silent majority being heard? If so, what are they saying to the rest of us? Is this simply what people feel they need at the moment?

For the past few months, life has obviously been difficult. So lighting up fireworks to let off steam with a few family and/or friends while having a fun time may be all the explanation that we need.

OTOH, people on the right are calling it a nationwide protest by average people to the authoritarian effort to keep hard working Americans at home as part of the COVID pandemic. The comments on the above YouTube video tend to be like these:

  • A beautiful display of the middle finger to the authoritarian scum trying to squeeze the life out of America. Ain’t gonna happen.
  • American Patriots giving the deep state a big F-You!
  • The silent majority sure were loud this evening.

Theories range from coordinated efforts to blame those protesting police brutality, to bored people blowing off steam following coronavirus lockdowns. The trend, paired with a lack of clear information and a growing climate of distrust in institutions, has sparked some extreme theories, including that the various police departments are encouraging them as a type of civil disobedience.

Since most states allow at least some types of consumer fireworks, it’s difficult to prevent them from showing up in places like New York City where they’re banned. For years, people have been willing to drive a couple of hours away where they can be purchased legally.

According to MarketWatch, Retail aerial fireworks are capped at under 2 inches in diameter and burst at just under 200 feet, while professional fireworks are larger, and can explode hundreds of feet higher.

Perhaps the municipal cancellations of fireworks shows are the culprit: The fireworks business has gone bust from the coronavirus. At Pyroshows, a company that wholesales fireworks, 2020 sales are down almost 80%. A sales rep reported:

“Well, it’s been extreme. A lot of communities have had to cancel their events, therefore they had to cancel their fireworks…”

That means fireworks companies are dumping their products to the public at deep discounts.

So, on this Fourth of July holiday, Americans were out walking around. They had fun with the pretty lights. No cities were burned. They celebrated a 3-day weekend together. Let’s not make too much of it.

People, not the authorities, were in control. And except for dog owners and those who were kept up late by local yahoos, the fireworks displays, along with the Hamilton movie, gave America a much-needed spectacular.

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First Person Report: Boston’s March for George Floyd

The Daily Escape:

Boston, May 31, 2020 – all photos by Kendall Lavoie

(What follows is a first person report by friend of the blog, Kendall Lavoie. She, her fiancé and a few friends drove from western Massachusetts to show support for George Floyd at a demonstration in Boston.)

Eight years ago, when Trayvon Martin was murdered, my eyes were opened to how cruel and unjust the world can be for people of color, especially in this country. Every year since then there have been multiple instances of unpunished police brutality, many lives lost, and still no progress or real change.

When I saw the video of George Floyd being killed in the street I was filled with sadness, anger, and a drive to do something.

Yesterday, we haphazardly constructed signs that we decorated with our slices of free speech, gathered medical supplies, and headed to Boston to join our fellow citizens in need. We wore PPE and tried our best to socially distance, which is difficult in a crowd, and we will be self-quarantining for 14 days as a result of the contact we made yesterday.

When we arrived in Boston, we first joined an early march along the streets to the Boston Common. We listened to people talk about how they felt while we knelt in the gravel and grass. Some quotes from the early march include:

“Don’t let this moment be fleeting. You gotta live this shit as a lifestyle.”
“Why is my color a crime?”
“This is a movement of us, all of us.”
“True allies that are out here today willing to put their health on the line, that’s what makes this different- everybody had to take a risk to be the fuck out here today.”

 

We marched to the State House and peacefully stood outside for a bit, and then dispersed and went our separate ways.

The late march started at 6:30 in Dudley Square. The amount of people who showed up was just incredible- almost the entire time I couldn’t see the front of the crowd or the end of it. Community support from residents and businesses was amazing throughout, motorists showed their support despite being blocked by our marching at times, and there was a real sense of people coming together for change.

We marched toward the Common once again for about an hour and a half. I heard one man say:

“This is the proudest I’ve been of my city in a long time. Look at all these people, they actually care.”

The sun set while we sat in the Common and made our way up the steps to the State House once again. Some started setting off fireworks, and others climbed the fence and architecture in the front of the statehouse. Aside from a few people who threw trash over the fence (and were immediately called out by the rest of the protesters with the chant “stop throwing shit”), we were completely peaceful. We weren’t blocking traffic as there were no civilian cars at this point, and later when there were, we made a pathway for them to get through.

The crowd began to thin out as people went home, and we decided to give it a few more minutes before we headed back to the car. We started handing out our medical supplies since it looked like we wouldn’t be needing them, and maybe others would want them for later protests.

That’s when the Boston PD sent three cruisers speeding into the crowd. No warning, I just turned to my right and people were running and screaming. The first one sped past, and the second one was inches from me. I actually hit the third with my sign out of instinct to “push” it away from me because it was so close.

This was a blatant baiting tactic to incite the violence that ensued. I was angry, the people around me were angry, we started chanting “THIS WAS PEACEFUL!” and some started throwing things over the fence. When they sent the cruisers back through, they got blocked this time and the National Guard came out of the State House and began firing rubber rounds into the crowd, striking one girl in the ankle who we helped, and another in the ribs.

On another pass through, a protester threw a frozen water bottle at the side mirror of a cruiser and it detached. The back window was shattered by another flying object. People threw their milk jugs at the cruisers and the National Guard sent an armored car through the crowd.

The crowd fractured and began to move off in different directions. We walked down the side of Boston Common where a garbage fire burned in a barrel and many had embedded their signs in the wrought iron fence. Police were in full riot gear, and in the distance smoke billowed from something large burning, which we later learned was a cop car.

We crossed the street and a girl stood there rubbing her face and crying. She had been pepper sprayed, saying she was too close to the perimeter as she was trying to videotape a man being beaten in the corner by police. This 18-19 year old girl apologized profusely for seeming to inconvenience us as we poured milk in her eyes. Her friends stood by her and helped her find her phone and we parted ways.

Another man down the street had someone guiding him because he had been tear gassed, but refused our help. Farther, we came to a street where police were surrounding a girl on the ground. People were shouting and I started recording, getting closer so she wouldn’t be alone. The police came at us with wooden batons and pushed us back. The girl was helped up and stood at the edge of the crowd crying and demanding to know the name of the cop who pushed her down, breaking her box of belongings and dragged her across broken glass. I didn’t get the name or badge number of the officer because he refused to turn around, but another officer retrieved her box of things and we left as they radioed in to “come wipe down the street.”

We helped get glass out of her ankle and gave her a bandage. We gave her the badge number of one of the officers, in hopes that she could get the other one via that, somehow. The man who assaulted her refused to identify himself and is paid by tax dollars.

While we were helping her, squads of police cars flew past us down the street. In the distance we could hear popping, and I’m still unsure if it was fireworks or rubber rounds. We walked an hour back to the car, checking in with people on the way who let us know where to avoid as we did the same.

We learned later that the police had shut down the T after demanding that everyone go home.

As we drove home, I tried to process what I had just been a part of. I’ve always supported police. I was raised with the mantra, “don’t talk to strangers… except for police.” They were always heroes, always there to protect me, and the bad ones were negligible in comparison to the greater good. After last night my opinion has changed.

I saw how my fellow Americans are treated by police when they try to protest peacefully for their rights. I saw how the Boston Police Department acted like cowards and used their vehicles as weapons. And I saw the power that people can wield when they come together.

We won’t stop until they stop, WE DEMAND CHANGE NOW. Get out there and do something about it!!!

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Monday Wake Up Call -MLK Holiday Edition

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience….Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”Howard Zinn

Today we remember the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was America’s icon of civil disobedience, and a hero to most. And while injustice and inequality continue in the US, the thought that civil disobedience will deliver the astonishing results it did in the 1950s and 1960s seems nearly impossible. In the next four years, we will have trouble enough holding on to the reforms of the New Deal and the Lyndon Johnson years.

Here is a small proof: This week, the city of Biloxi Mississippi tweeted that some municipal offices would be closed on Monday “in observance of Great Americans Day, a state-named holiday”. That was news to citizens of Biloxi. How had the city changed the name of a federal holiday in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr to celebrate unnamed “Great Americans”?

It hadn’t. This from the Guardian:

The incident, however, highlighted an awkward truth about Mississippi’s Martin Luther King Jr Day: that it is also Robert E Lee Day…Arkansas and Alabama also jointly celebrate Martin Luther King Day and Robert E Lee Day, despite annual protests.

States and municipalities were slow to recognize the MLK holiday, with New Hampshire being the last state to officially observe the day, in 2000. You may remember Arizona’s resistance to a holiday honoring MLK. It became a big issue in the late 1980s. In 1986, the year the federal holiday honoring King was first observed, Arizona’s House of Representatives voted down a measure observing it. But, Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who was about to leave office, proclaimed the holiday on his own.

Babbitt’s designation of the holiday became an issue in the next election. Republican Evan Mecham promised to overturn Babbitt’s order if he won. And after his election, Mecham reversed the proclamation. Mecham’s move led to dozens of groups cancelling conventions in Phoenix. After Mecham left office, (he was indicted and impeached), the debate continued, eventually leading to a statewide vote in 1990, but Arizona voters rejected the holiday.

That cost Arizona a chance to host its first Super Bowl in 1993 (the NFL’s decisions are made about 5 years in advance). Losing the 1993 game cost the state at least $200 million. The ongoing refusal to create an MLK Holiday also cost Arizona scores of additional conventions and tourist business. Not long after the vote, the NCAA turned down Arizona State’s request to host a portion of the 1994 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It took until November 1992 for the state to finally designate the MLK Holiday.

Does any of this sound familiar? A Republican governor stands against an idea that the majority of America thinks is important, and the right thing to do. The state loses tourism and other business. It becomes a pariah, standing on ground that makes its governor look more like George Wallace than a modern political executive. We’re talking about you, North Carolina! Why is it always a Republican?

In 1991 the rap group Public Enemy released a song called “By the Time I Get to Arizona” on their album, “Apocalypse 91”. They wrote the song in response to Arizona’s’ refusal to create the MLK Holiday. The song is controversial, since the music video showed Public Enemy’s willingness to kill Gov. Mecham. Rolling Stone praised the album, stating that Apocalypse 91attempted nothing short of setting a sociopolitical agenda for the black community.”

Best wishes on MLK day. The struggle is gonna get way more real this year. Here is “By The Time I Get to Arizona”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

I’m countin’ down to the day deservin’
Fittin’ for a king
I’m waitin’ for the time when I can
Get to Arizona
‘Cause my money’s spent on
The goddamn rent
Neither party is mine not the
Jackass or the elephant
Why want a holiday Fuck it ’cause I wanna
So what if I celebrate it standin’ on a corner
I ain’t drinkin’ no 40
I B thinkin’ time wit’ a nine
Until we get some land
Call me the trigger man
Looki lookin’ for the governor

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2016

Dr. King is one of Wrongo’s few heroes. He set an example for activism and success in the political arena that few other activists have matched, except for the founders of our Republic. Maybe that is why he is one of only two individuals (George Washington is the other) who have their names attached to a federal holiday.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, MLK transformed America. In the ‘50’s , America was a place where you didn’t question why we did things the way we did, you just followed your parents. By the end of the ‘60’s we were questioning everything. We changed a few things, and by the 1970s, many of us were living under a very different set of social mores than those of our parents.

MLK, along with others in our churches and a courageous few politicians created a real “moral majority” (not the phony ideal espoused by Jerry Falwell 25 years later), comprised of people of all races, educational and economic strata who came together to support the Big Idea that Separate was not Equal. MLK gave voice to that Big Idea.

His presence, power and persuasiveness drove our political process to a place and to an outcome in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These ideas were completely unthinkable 10 years earlier in 1954, when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court.

Wrongo participated in the Civil Rights movement from 1958 to 1962. That participation changed my viewpoint on race, religion and politics. Sadly, and wrongly, Wrongo left active participation in the movement, thinking that Dr. King’s Big Idea had taken hold, and that it permanently altered our political landscape.

Yet here we are in 2016, with all of the New Deal and Great Society reforms under attack.

Here is something Wrongo guarantees you have never heard. It is a 1986 recording by Eartha Kitt detailing Dr. King’s activism, his many, many arrests, and the few attempts on his life before he was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Kitt made an album called “My Way: Musical Tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” with The Black Academy of Arts & Letters (TBAAL), the nation’s largest African-American cultural arts institution. Here is Ms. Kitt, not singing, but speaking about MLK:

Those of you who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

It is clear from that recitation that MLK paid a high price for his beliefs. Ms. Kitt also paid a price for hers. In 1968, during LBJ’s administration, Kitt made anti-war statements at a White House luncheon. When Lady Bird Johnson asked her about Vietnam, Eartha replied:

You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.

She had trouble finding work after that. Whatever you may think of her talents, it is contemptible that she was branded “a sadistic nymphomaniac” by the CIA. This was in the late 1960s, not the 1940s.

Today, the mass movement type of activism is dead. In our current political climate, holding large rallies rarely results in political change. Most people just send a tweet, and think they’ve accomplished something. The failure of demonstrations today is a symptom of a failure in our democracy. And the way the Occupy Movement was forcibly removed from American cities makes it difficult for anyone to want to engage in civil disobedience.

Consider how quick the police are to shoot unarmed black men today. How long would MLK be able to demonstrate, or drive his car, or march to Montgomery before being shot, not by an assassin, but by the police on the streets of America today?

Our founders wrote the Constitution in a way that explicitly provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. Despite that protection, legislation in cities across America has chipped away at those rights in the name of public safety. Along with this erosion of rights, comes the military-style weapons and tactics, the pepper spray and temporary suspension of civil rights that we saw in NYC, Ferguson. MO, and Oakland CA.

Today America urgently needs a political movement with a forceful, charismatic leader.

Someone who can tie together the various threads of what is wrong in our society. Someone who can show us how these things are interrelated, and who can point us in a direction that could restore our now-fading civil rights and our middle class.

MLK remains the hero of a generation of Americans for whom activism was a building block of their personal journey to adulthood.

In most ways, our nation has never recovered that sense of can-do, or that all things are possible for your Big Idea. Today there is no one like MLK who can rally us to drive Big Ideas to reality.

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Let’s Talk About Baltimore

Regarding Baltimore, the NYT says:

Hundreds of rifle-toting National Guard members began deploying here on Tuesday morning, lining one of the city’s main thoroughfares and taking up posts around a police station in western Baltimore that had been the scene of earlier protests.

From the start of the demonstration through Tuesday morning, 15 police officers were injured, 2 people were shot, both in the leg. And approximately 200 people were arrested. There is a night curfew. There are the predictable images of large groups of young black males, buildings on fire, up-armored cops and National Guard, and the shaking of jowls by media and politicians.

These stories are always depressingly similar: Police shoot a black guy. They obfuscate for several days. A protest turns violent, and some of those professing to be “victims” create victims of their own, mostly in their own neighborhoods. The police are happy to give them room to destroy property in black neighborhoods, but then draw the line when the crowd moves out of that prescribed area.

Something was bound to give in Baltimore. Check out this report from the Baltimore Sun, called “Undue Force“:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations [by the Baltimore police department].

According to state law, Baltimore cops cannot be sued for more than $200,000 for each “offense”. That statutory cap can be exceeded when there are multiple claims in a lawsuit, and if there is malice the cap may not apply. The largest settlement has been $500k. In total, the city has paid $5.7 million since January 2011, and that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims against their police. Just a cost of doing business in Baltimore.

So, once the riot started the mayor and the governor called for calm. “Why can’t these people react non-violently?” Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic provides an answer:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.

Here is a series of tweets by Billmon: (edited by the Wrongologist)

…but the cops did not destroy the black industrial working class, or finance the slumlords, or redline poor neighborhoods. Police brutality isn’t the only reason that #BlackLivesMatter.
… And not being unlawfully killed is a pretty minimal standard for “mattering.”
…And so the policy “debate” becomes limited to: “Black men: Should we let the cops kill them or not?” Which is fucking sick. Or: “Should America have an incarceration rate that’s 10 times higher than the rest of developed world? Or just 5 times higher.”

We are witnessing a continuing trend in US policing: Violence against inanimate property equals violence against “the people”. It brings a disproportionate response, whether it is the Occupy movement, Ferguson, or Baltimore.

“Urban riots” always conjure up bad images and bad responses, like the riots in 1964 in Harlem and Philadelphia, and in Newark in 1967, all of which were ignited by allegations of police brutality. In Newark, Governor Richard J. Hughes (R) called up the National Guard. When they arrived, reports were coming in of black snipers roaming the city, and terrorists with dynamite and arms heading towards Newark. The result was 26 deaths and 725 wounded in Newark, but no snipers or terrorists were found.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan (R), channeling his inner Spiro Agnew, vowed to quell rioting by sending in 1,000 National Guard troops. From the Baltimore Sun:

Hogan said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a political ally of the new Republican governor, would sent 150 troopers plus additional resources to Baltimore.

Christie will never let a good crisis go to waste.

The ultimate outcome of Baltimore will predictably be calls for more law and ordering by the right, and more calls for inconsequential band aids by the left. Perhaps the policy debate ought to be broader than: “what will it take for police to stop killing black guys?”, although that would be a good start.

Police need to remember that since they have the authority and the power, they also have the responsibility to use both properly. It’s not the responsibility of the person they pull over, the person they want to question, or the person who is standing nearby, it’s THEIR responsibility.

Let’s face it, Americans live in a soft police state. Whites may not sense its severity or doom like urban black males, since their threat is to privacy. But the freedoms of most Americans have never been more threatened and violated by governments at the federal, state and local levels.

Here is Randy Newman singing his composition, “Baltimore“:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can see the video here.

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