Archive for August, 2014


last day of summer

amusement park cropped

In my former home state of Minnesota, the end of the state fair always marked the unofficial last day of summer. Tomorrow is the last day of the state fair, and hence, summer. The rich people at the LaFayette Club on Lake Minnetonka will have their fireworks display. It is Labor Day, a holiday that extends the summer vacation one last day before everybody gets to return to work.

Oh, boy! One more whole day.

I am always conscious of the date on which Labor Day falls because Holly waited for this holiday and the end of summer to die. Twenty-one years ago, it was September 6. This year Labor Day falls a week earlier.

Why do I suspect that we are being gypped out of a week of summer now that the recession “is drawing to a close” and worker productivity must be raised?

Americans already work more than anyone in the industrialized world. More than the English, more than the Japanese, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too. Now I suspect they want even more from us.

The government says we’re working only slightly more and not so much that most people should really notice. Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a very gradually rising trend through the 1990s that tapered off after 2000, hovering somewhere just north of 40 hours weekly. But ask Americans themselves and they say they’re working 10 more hours a week than the government does. Post-recession studies indicate that we’re now working up to 46 hours a week.

Back in 1970, the average work week for an American worker was about 35 hours.  Juliet Schor, who wrote the 1992 best-selling book The Overworked American concluded that by 1990 Americans worked an average of nearly one month more per year than in 1970. And that was pre-recession, before they used the crisis to turn the screws on us.

According to one recent survey, the average American worker spends an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls after normal work hours.  Other Americans are juggling two or three jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.

Americans are busier than ever and work often pushes the other areas of our lives on to the back burner.  What this also means is that “family vacations” are becoming increasingly rare in the United States. In fact, Americans spend less days on vacation than anyone else in the industrialized world.  While some would applaud our “work ethic”, the truth is that the fact that we are being overworked is having some very serious consequences.

As we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. Past a certain point overworked people become less efficient and less effective.

Apparently we are conditioning ourselves to keep up this insane pace at younger and younger ages. A couple days ago I was talking with my ersatz daughter Sarah, and she told me her kids had been in school since the beginning of August. I’m sorry, but this strikes me as goddamned un-American. This is all getting out-of-hand.

Well, there’s nothing to be done about it this weekend but to enjoy the time off.

In choosing the Groove of the Day, I had a choice between a shorter and a longer version of the same song by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I opted for the longer one. Enjoy your free time. Take an extra turn on the carousel for me.

It’s back to the grindstone and more exploitation on Tuesday.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the New York Philharmonic performing “The Carousel Waltz”


lame logos

a&f 1

When I was a kid and Lacoste shirts were all the rage, I used to cut off the alligator logos before I would wear them. I felt that I didn’t need an ostentatious logo on an article of clothing to define my identity. I knew I wasn’t like everybody else, then or now. Although I no longer remove the embroidered polo players from today’s knit shirts (it is just too much trouble), my distaste for outward labels continues to this day.

Over the last two or three decades, I have found the giant Abercrombie labels especially laughable.

The last time I was in an Abercrombie & Fitch store was in the early ’70s, when it was still an authentic sporting goods store known for its stuffy image. My mother had taken me there to buy shoes, shirts, and trousers which she reckoned would be suitable for my upcoming travels to East Africa. As a result, I have always seen the store’s rebranding as a purveyor to young people of stylish, “look-at-me-I’m-cool” fashion as amusing, to say the least. This new “Abercrombie & Fitch” was a fraud.

Well, Abercrombie & Fitch is, according to Vauhini Vara at the New Yorker, no longer a marker of popularity. In fact, says Vara, it hasn’t been one for years.

“Since the late aughts,” says Vara, “teens have been spending far less at the stores known as the three As—Abercrombie, American Eagle, and Aéropostale—and have been especially disinterested in the T-shirts and hoodies with logos that once made the stores so popular. They’re shopping instead at places like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, which are adept at copying fashions from the runway and selling them cheaply.”

I am so out-of-touch, I don’t even know what those up-and-comer stores are, but I was pleased to hear that on a conference call Thursday, Abercrombie’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, told analysts and reporters, “In the spring season, we’re looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing.” Instead, Abercrombie intends to focus on “fashion,” he said.

Steph Wissink, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, compiled reports for more than a decade on where teenagers are spending their money. In the late nineties and early aughts, Wissink said, Abercrombie was the most popular brand among teens.

“During that time, Abercrombie thrived by exalting conformity,” said Vara. “All the popular kids were wearing the Abercrombie logo, the message went, so if you wanted to be one of them, you’d better wear the logo, too.”

This attitude started working against Abercrombie during the recession in 2008. That’s when Wissink started noticing fewer Abercrombie logos in the schools she visited; people could no longer afford Abercrombie’s prices for T-shirts and hoodies. Around this the time, other stores began to thrive by selling super-cheap runway knockoffs. The economy has recovered since then, but the turn toward cheap fashion survived.

Thanks in part to our recent economic experiences, kids today seem less interested in the aesthetic of conformity-through-consumption. They now have better ways of expressing who they are—through social media, for example. Why should a teen send subtle signals about his or her identity by dressing in a certain brand when there are more explicit means available on Facebook and Instagram?

Kids now prefer to show that they’re different from others. To the extent that they do use purchases as social signifiers, they pay attention to tech brands—the latest iPhone or pair of headphones—more than to clothing lines.

I’m sure that when the next new thing comes along, social media will lose their influence as social signifiers. But in the meantime, kids are adopting more creative means than consumption to express themselves.

In my opinion, this trend is a good thing. If it continues, it may well eventually be the salvation of our economy.

a&f 2


Groove of the Day

Listen to Julie Brown performing “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”


teen mass murderers

tron high school
What Mass Murderers Are Really Thinking
Once upon a time people thought I might be one, and I came to love the notoriety.

August 19, 2014

Though it’s been a while—thankfully—since the last mass shooting in America, the threat never quite goes away. On Tuesday, police in the affluent suburb of South Pasadena, Calif., announced that they had prevented a “horrific tragedy” by arresting two teenage boys who were plotting to gun down as many of their fellow high-school students as possible.

I might be able to give some insight into what these young would-be mass murderers want. Because I used to want the same thing. Like them, I was once addicted to infamy.

Back when I was a teen, I was accused of wanting to shoot up my high school. It was all a terrible misunderstanding based on my frustrations over being an outcast, which I’d vented by writing a short story in which I fantasized about killing some of my classmates at a school dance. When I compounded my reputation as a dangerous psychopath by scaring a girl who’d been mean to me with a nasty note that invoked the Columbine killings, and the police found out about my short story, the news was on the front page of our hometown paper and covered by the local TV station. I was banned from my prom (which I was rumored to want to blow up) and frightened parents claimed they would shoot me on sight if I tried to go. Extra police were sent to the dance and to my school.

tron with newspaperMy notoriety was made. And although I had no desire to go on a killing spree at all, I began to sort of enjoy it. I started to identify with mass murderers, probably because I thought I was the same as them: a loser destined to be secluded from society. But more importantly, I felt that being suspected as a villain gave me power. I was no longer a quiet nobody. I was infamous. People paid attention to what I did. I now had a stage. Teachers and adults feared me, and some kids my age, though they claimed to dislike me, were curious about me. There was something about my situation being plastered on television that made it feel like I was more than just a human. I may have been a loser, but I did something. The notoriety was as addictive as it was isolating. And there was something so uniquely American about the whole thing.

We as a country love our killers. We send a message to the wrong people that if you want fame and attention, just amass a high enough kill count. This is also the reason so many mass murderers like to write manifestos before they commence their final run of violence. It helps to make a bigger splash. It gets them more headlines. Elliot Rodger, who allegedly killed six people in Santa Barbara last May, left behind both a manifesto and a video to express his narcissistic views. He probably created these things because he knew that they would be made available for the public, and that people would be interested in what he had to say. Everyone would want to know what made him tick, and what made him snap. It’s every maniac’s dream. I’m sure he also knew he would gain fans, which he did. In the end he was given what he wanted—rewarded for killing innocent people. Weeks after Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, a Las Vegas couple went on another one and left behind their own so-called manifesto. I cannot imagine that this was not in part inspired by the publishing of Rodger’s manifesto. According to news reports, the couple had hopes of mounting the “next Columbine.” For people like that, a kill count is nothing more than a scoreboard for the sport of mass murder. In order to go down with the big shots, you got to get in the high rankings. Like James Holmes, who allegedly shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the Las Vegas couple enjoyed dressing up like the Joker. Again, more headlines.

It’s important for the media to understand what goes on in the minds of these people. If we didn’t glamorize mass murderers—supply them a huge platform when they decide to go out in a selfish blaze of glory—I think a lot of the appeal to go on a shooting spree would be diminished.

Hence, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a little restraint from the media. Yes, we know they need to cover these events—and inevitably the body count is going to get into the headlines. But it’s not necessary to name the killer and turn him or her into some sort of anti-hero. Many media outlets already observe an informal rule of not identifying some victims, at least right away, out of respect for their families. They also don’t name under-age victims or perpetrators.


Gina Tron is a freelance writer living in Denver. Her first novel will be out in October.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Marilyn Manson performing “Disposable Teens”


crumbs don’t hack it

crumbs 3

I have learned a lot from my son. In the last year, he has had to take a sizeable pay cut just to stay employed in today’s economy. He will do better than most adjusting to these new circumstances, but the economy will be diminished as he now has less disposable income to invest and spend.

Now recognize that what has happened to him is a trend, multiply that by the hundreds of thousands in his cohort with similar experiences, and you will see we are in deep doo-doo. My neighbor says the one-percenters and their bought government are trying to turn the US into a third-world country.

I’m sure that if you were to ask the one-percenters directly, they would disagree with my neighbor’s assessment that this is their intent, but it is the effective result of their policies of intentional pay and asset inequality.

The time has come that the doctrine of “trickle down” must be recognized as discredited and a mere justification for personal greed. What crumbs fall from the tables of the winners-take-all cannot create the economic growth that we need. The time has come to recognize that the fortunes of the middle class and poor are linked, and are one in the same as never before in the memorable past. If the vastly more numerous middle class and poor do not have disposable income, they cannot invest the money or make the purchases that our economy needs to expand.

On August 13th in Forbes, writer Erik Sherman correctly asserted that, at a personal level, our addiction to the cheap goods we buy at places like Wal-Mart simply perpetuates the off-shoring of good-paying jobs to Asia and other places which keep the costs of the labor content of goods low. Cheap hamburgers from McDonald’s are made possible because restaurant workers in the US are paid less than they need to live.

“A tiny fraction of the population gets the most and then uses its power and influence to change laws and further favor itself,” says Sherman. “The notion that this somehow helps the economy or is ‘earned’ is ludicrous. There have been multiple studies showing either zero or negative correlation between the size of CEO compensation and the performance of public companies, which means that, often, the more the CEO makes, the worse the company does.”

It was a relief to see, in a recent TED talk, that this realization is finally beginning to be discussed among the big-money people. Nick Hanauer, a Seattle-based venture capitalist, says that growing inequality is about to push our societies into conditions resembling pre-revolutionary France. If something doesn’t change, soon and big, he sees pitchforks in our future (as in revolution). If you want to hear his argument about why a dramatic increase in minimum wage could grow the middle class, deliver economic prosperity, and prevent a revolt, click here.

Although I find Hanauer’s talk of “fellow plutocrats” rather distasteful, he does remind his economic class that a higher minimum wage (such as instituted in 1914 by Henry Ford and contrary to the conventional wisdom that higher wages will kill jobs) is one of the most important ways to encourage prosperity for all.

We are still the richest country in the world. There are enough assets in our economy to meet everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed. The rich cannot physically buy and use enough goods and services to boost the economy. Nor can they or will they invest enough to make a difference.

To challenge trickle-down effectively, progressives must tell their own story about economic growth. In that story, it isn’t the rich that lead the way to growth and prosperity. Instead, it is a thriving and vibrant middle class that shows us the path. A strong middle class is a prerequisite for robust entrepreneurship and innovation, a source of trust that greases social interactions and reduces transaction costs, a bastion of civic engagement that produces better governance, and a promoter of education and other long-term investments.

By 2030, the global middle class is expected to more than double in size from 2 billion to 4.9 billion. That demographic change is going to have a huge impact around the world. For the poor who join the middle class, it’s going to mean a significant amount of disposable income for the first time in their lives. Today, half of the 2 billion people in the global middle class are from North America and Europe. By 2030, that share is expected to shrink to 22%. On the other hand, Asia is expected to have 64% of the planet’s middle class by 2030.

Are we, as a nation, prepared to let this growth pass us by? As long as we allow “trickle down” to stand in the face of all contrary evidence, it will be death by our own hand.

hungry kids 2


Groove of the Day

Listen to U2 performing “Crumbs from Your Table”


end of an era?

block of ice meltingSince I first moved to Estrella Vista six years ago, I have been keeping food cool by keeping it on ice. There was never enough power to operate the electric refrigerator I own and, at a cost of $1,200, I could never come up with the money at one time to afford a propane refrigerator. So I resorted to the poor man’s trap of purchasing ice in weekly drips and drabs, even though I knew all along that the total cost, over time, was greater than if I’d been able to make the thousand-dollar-plus investment all at once.

Then, a couple days ago (while on another ice run), my neighbor Bill saw a notice in the window of the general store that someone was selling a propane refrigerator for $200 (or best offer). “That’s a hell of a deal,” said Bill.

“Too good a deal,” I said. “It either doesn’t work or the seller is going through something terrible… like a break-up.”

Bill reminded me that the notice said the refrigerator “works great.”

Anyway, I called after the seller had likely returned from work, and learned that he was relocating to Florida where his wife had already established a new business in the hospitality industry. They had moved to this area ten years ago, living off-the-grid, following his job as a scientist with the National Park Service. Now they were following her job. His wife had always hated living off-the-grid, miles and miles from everything essential. So he was leaving the area mid-week. It was now or never.

His story touched my heart. We reached a deal straightaway. I figured that the refrigerator probably did work great, plus this couple was staying together. How nice. No bad tastes to get into my food. Also, I’d be saving about $25 a week, minus the cost of propane. Over a year, that’s more than the cost of a new propane refrigerator.

Well, yesterday morning the seller called. He had hooked up the refrigerator to his propane source to test it again. The freezer works great but the main compartment doesn’t work at all. He offered the refrigerator to me, as is, for free.

Can it be repaired or will it just become another piece of junk that will need to be disposed of? Only time will tell, but the level of risk isn’t that great.

So Bill and I visited his place last night, a fifteen-minute drive away, and retrieved the fridge. Being a positive thinker, I paid the seller $50. That way, I reasoned, I won’t have any feelings of guilt if I get the refrigerator working. In addition to the cost of repair, I’ll only have to pay for some flexible gas hose and a regulator.

If we can get it working, I’ll be able to add chocolate ice cream to my grocery purchases for the first time in six years. It’s worth a try, but I won’t get my hopes up too high until it actually happens.

chocolate ice cream 2


Groove of the Day

Listen to Van Halen performing “Ice Cream Man”


police militarization

fuck the police

Not Just Ferguson: 11 Eye-Opening Facts About America’s Militarized Police Forces

by Alex Kane, AlterNet

August 13, 2014

The “war on terror” has come home—and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.

The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization—complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades—when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.

Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what looks like an invading army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought more attention to police militarization when it issued a comprehensive, nearly 100-page report titled, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. Based on public records requests to more than 260 law enforcement agencies in 26 states, the ACLU concluded that this police militarization “unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.”

The information contained in the ACLU report—and in other investigations into the phenomenon—is sobering. From the killing of innocent people to the almost complete lack of debate on these policies, police militarization has turned into a key issue for Americans. It is harming civil liberties, ramping up the “war on drugs,” impacting the most marginalized members of society and transforming neighborhoods into war zones. Here are 11 important—and horrifying—things you should know about the militarization of police.

1. It harms, and sometimes kills, innocent people. When you have heavily armed police officers using flash-bang grenades and armored personnel carriers, innocent people are bound to be hurt. The likelihood of people being killed is raised by the practice of SWAT teams busting down doors with no warning, which leads some people to think it may be a burglary and try to defend themselves. The ACLU documented seven cases of civilians dying in these kinds of raids, and 46 people being injured. That’s only in the cases the civil liberties group looked at, so the true number is actually higher.

Take the case of Tarika Wilson, which the ACLU summarizes. The 26-year-old biracial mother lived in Lima, Ohio. Her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, was wanted by the police on suspicion of drug dealing. So on January 4, 2008, a SWAT team busted down Wilson’s door and opened fire. A SWAT officer killed Wilson and injured her one-year-old baby, Sincere Wilson. The killing sparked rage in Lima and accusations of a racist police department, but the officer who shot Wilson, Sgt. Joe Chavalia, was found not guilty on all charges.

2. Children are impacted. As the case of Wilson shows, the police busting down doors care little about whether there’s a child in the home. Another case profiled by the ACLU shows how children can be caught in the crossfire—with devastating consequences.

In May, after their Wisconsin home had burned down, the Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives in Georgia. One night, a SWAT team with assault rifles invaded the home and threw a flash-bang grenade—despite the presence of kids’ toys in the front yard. The police were looking for the father’s nephew on drug charges. He wasn’t there. But a 19-month-old named Bou Bou was—and the grenade landed in his crib.

Bou Bou was wounded in the chest and had third-degree burns. He was put in a medically induced coma.

Another high-profile instance of a child being killed by paramilitary police tactics occurred in 2010, when seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones died in Detroit. The city’s Special Response Team (Detroit’s SWAT) was looking for Chauncey Owens, a suspect in the killing of a teenager who lived on the second floor of the apartment Jones lived in.

Officers raided the home, threw a flash-bang grenade, and fired one shot that struck Jones in the head. The police agent who fired the fatal shot, Joseph Weekley, has so far gotten off easy: a jury trial ended in deadlock last year, though he will face charges of involuntary manslaughter in September. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith wrote last year after Weekley was acquitted: “What happened to Aiyana is the result of the militarization of police in this country…Part of what it means to be black in America now is watching your neighborhood become the training ground for our increasingly militarized police units.”

Bou Bou and Jones aren’t the only cases of children being impacted.

According to the ACLU, “of the 818 deployments studied, 14% involved the presence of children and 13% did not.” It was impossible to determine whether children were present in the rest of the cases studied.

3. The use of SWAT teams is often unnecessary. In many cases, using militarized teams of police is not needed. The ACLU report notes that the vast majority of cases where SWAT teams are deployed are in situations where a search warrant is being executed to look for drugs. In other words, it’s not even 100 percent clear whether there are drugs at the place the police are going to. These situations are not why SWAT was created.

Furthermore, even when SWAT teams think there are weapons, they are often wrong. The ACLU report shows that in the cases where police thought weapons would be there, they were right only a third of the time.

4. The “war on terror” is fueling militarization. A growing number of agencies have taken advantage of the Department of Defense’s “1033” program, which is passed every year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The number of police agencies obtaining military equipment like mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs) has increased since 2009, according to USA Today, which notes that this “surplus military equipment” is “left over from U.S. military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” This equipment is largely cost-free for the police agencies that receive them.

In addition to the Pentagon budget provision, another agency created in the aftermath of 9/11 is helping militarize the police. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) grants funnel military-style equipment to local police departments nationwide. According to a 2011 Center for Investigative Reporting story published by The Daily Beast, at least $34 billion in DHS grants have gone to police agencies to buy military-style equipment. This money has gone to purchase drones, tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, tanks and more.

5. It’s a boon to contractor profits. The trend towards police militarization has given military contractors another lucrative market where they can shop their products. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackhawk Industries are making big bucks by selling their equipment to agencies flush with Department of Homeland Security grants.

In addition to selling equipment, contractors also sponsor training events for SWAT teams, like Urban Shield, a major arms expo that has attracted increasing attention from activists in recent years. SWAT teams, police agencies and military contractors converge on Urban Shield, which was held in California last year, to train SWAT teams and promote the equipment.

6. Border militarization and police militarization go hand in hand. The “war on terror” and “war on drugs” aren’t the only wars helping police militarization. There’s also the war on undocumented immigrants.

The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for brutal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, is the paradigmatic example of this trend. According to the ACLU, Arpaio’s Maricopa County department has acquired a machine gun so powerful it could tear through buildings on multiple city blocks. In addition, he has 120 assault rifles, five armored vehicles and ten helicopters. Other law enforcement agencies in Arizona have obtained equipment like bomb suits and night-vision goggles.

Then there’s a non-local law enforcement agency on the border: the Border Patrol, which has obtained drones and attack helicopters. And Border Patrol agents are acting like they’re at war. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that the Border Patrol killed 19 people from January 2010-October 2012—including some incidents in which the agents were under no lethal, direct threat.

7. Police are cracking down on dissent. In 1999, massive protests rocked Seattle during the World Trade Organization meeting. The police cracked down hard on the demonstrators using paramilitary tactics. Police fired tear gas at protesters, causing all hell to break loose.

Norm Stamper, the Seattle police chief at the time, criticized the militarized policing he presided over in a Nation article in 2011. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict,” wrote Stamper.

More than a decade after the Seattle protests, militarized policing to crack down on dissent returned with a vengeance during the wave of Occupy protests in 2011. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used to break up protests in Oakland. Scott Olsen, an Occupy Oakland protester and war veteran, was struck in the head by a police projectile, causing a fractured skull, broken vertebrae and brain swelling.

8. Asset forfeitures are funding police militarization. In June, AlterNet’s Aaron Cantú outlined how civil asset forfeiture laws work.

“It’s a legal fiction spun up hundreds of years ago to give the state the power to convict a person’s property of a crime, or at least, implicate its involvement in the committing of a crime. When that happened, the property was to be legally seized by the state,” wrote Cantú. He went on to explain that law enforcement justifies the seizure of property and cash as a way to break up narcotics rings’ infrastructure. But it can also be used in cases where a person is not convicted, or even charged with a crime.

Asset forfeitures bring in millions of dollars for police agencies, who then spend the money for their own uses. And for some police departments, it goes to militarizing their personnel.

New Yorker reporter Sarah Stillman, who penned a deeply reported piece on asset forfeitures, wrote in August 2013 that “thousands of police departments nationwide have recently acquired stun grenades, armored tanks, counterattack vehicles, and other paramilitary equipment, much of it purchased with asset-forfeiture funds.” So SWAT teams have an incentive to conduct raids where they seize property and cash that then goes into their budgets for more weapons.

9. Dubious informants are used for raids. As The New Yorker’s Stillman wrote in another piece, informants are “the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty percent of all drug cases in America involve them.” Given SWAT teams’ focus on finding drugs, it’s no surprise that informants are used to gather information that lead to military-style police raids.

A 2006 policy paper by investigative journalist Radley Balko, who has done the most reporting on militarized policing, highlighted the negative impact of using informants for these raids have. Most often, informants are “people who regularly seek out drug users and dealers and tip off the police in exchange for cash rewards,” and other drug dealers who inform to gain leniency or cash from the police. But these informants are quite unreliable—and the wrong information can lead to tragic consequences.

10. There’s been little debate or oversight. Despite the galloping march towards militarization, the ACLU report notes that “there does not appear to be much, if any, local oversight of law enforcement agency receipt of equipment transfers.” One of the group’s recommendations is for states and local municipalities to enact laws encouraging transparency and oversight of SWAT teams.

11. Communities of color bear the brunt. Across the country, communities of color are the people most targeted by police practices. In recent years, the abuse of “stop and frisk” tactics has attracted widespread attention because of the racially discriminatory way it has been applied.

Militarized policing has also targeted communities of color. According to the ACLU report, “of all the incidents studied where the number and race of the people impacted were known, 39 percent were Black, 11 percent were Latino, 20 were white.” The majority of raids that targeted blacks and Latinos were related to drugs—another metric exposing how the “war on drugs” is racist to the core.


Alex Kane is AlterNet’s New York-based world editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Harold Faltermeyer performing the main theme for Beverly Hills Cop, “Axel F”


delta force



cabaret 2

Maybe you remember this song from the film Cabaret. It was recorded by the Viennese cabaret singer and actress Greta Keller. It was made familiar—famous even—to new audiences just five years before the singer’s death in 1977.

Called “Heiraten” (Married), it was played in the film to describe the joys of being married when Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), having become pregnant, briefly decided to marry the bisexual Brian Roberts  (Michael York), a relationship that ended when she got an abortion.

greta kellerFor over 45 years Greta Keller’s voice was familiar worldwide, in radio shows, films, revues, concerts and musicals, but above all in recordings. Greta’s singing in what some call “a style reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich” comes from the fact she was the model for how Marlene Dietrich developed her own voice. First called “The Great Lady Of Chanson” in her native Vienna, the nickname followed her to London and America, where she married and lived for many years.

Her husband, an actor known as David Bacon, the son of a prominent Boston family, was murdered in 1943. The murder was never solved.

Not long after that, their child was stillborn. It took some time for her to recover from these events, but she restarted her career in Switzerland, then on to Vienna, Berlin, and back to New York City.

The last years of her life, from 1973 until her death Greta lived, worked, and traveled with her last partner, Wolfgang Nebmaier, who now lives in Southern Oregon.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Greta Keller performing “Heiraten”


double entendre

hoochie-coochie 2

This song is really provocative, given its age. I first heard it in college; one of Holly’s art teachers had it on vinyl.

220px-Bessiesmith3Recorded by Bessie Smith, who was nicknamed “The Empress of the Blues,” Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s.

It employs the double entendre: the first meaning is rather prosaic while the second meaning is risqué. It is clear that on one level she is referring to a sugar bowl, but the second or hidden meaning refers to… well, I’ll leave that to you to figure out. This is not a sex education class.

Bessie Smith died in 1937 as a result of a car accident. She was only 43 years old.

Despite its off-color nature, I think it is an important song that any serious student of music history should know.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Bessie Smith performing “I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl”



connection to internet

It is good being reconnected with the outer world. I had a lot of emails to answer after my phone system was restored, and I was able to connect last night with the mother of one of our kids. I think I may have had a suggestion that she found valuable, but only time will tell. In any event, my phone call assured her that she is not alone and it was appreciated.

When the phone line goes down, I am reminded of how tenuous is my connection with people, even locals. A friend who lives only a dozen miles away had called several times the night before, and because the phone had appeared to him to have rung (it didn’t here), he had erroneously suspected that I was ignoring him. Had I not been able to walk to my neighbor’s (whose phone still worked), I would have been completely cut off, even from the phone company.

I dread the day that my phone line goes down for more than a day; the ensuing silence would at least be better than the navel-gazing that would probably follow without the intellectual inputs provided by the Internet.

Thank god for Wikipedia! I have a green-leather-bound Encyclopedia Britannica in storage, but I doubt that I will ever open it again.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Blondie performing “Hanging on the Telephone”