Archive for August, 2016


oh, really!

It’s been a while since I’ve visited lawyer Jonathan Turley’s website, so I missed this example of absurd corporate greed. Thought I’d pass it on. But don’t bother to thank me. It may get you sued.



ThankYou For Suing: Citigroup Claims Ownership of the Use of “ThankYou”

by Jonathan Turley,

June 14, 2016

We have had a running discussion of how copyright and trademark laws have continued to grow to encompass common terms and images. The latest insanity comes from banking giant Citigroup, which is suing AT&T for its use of “Thank You” in ads to its customers. That’s right, Citigroup claims to own the trademark on “THANKYOU.” So now even the most common expression of civility is claimed as “unlawful conduct” amounting to wanton trademark infringement.

We have been discussing a disturbing trend in copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to the symbol for “pi.”

citigroupCitigroup has trademarks the term THANKYOU, including THANKYOU, CITI THANKYOU, CITIBUSINESS THANKYOU, THANKYOU FROM CITI, and THANKYOU YOUR WAY and other permutations as part of its “THANKYOU Marks.” Citigroup was shocked and outraged to learn that another company actually thanked its customers. Citigroup claims that AT&T’s campaign for its Universal Card is illegally marketing the phrases “thanks” and “AT&T THANKS.”

It appears that no loner but Citigroup can say thank you because the AT&T thankfulness “is likely to cause consumer confusion and constitutes trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition in violation of Citigroup’s rights.”

By the way, AT&T’s hands are hardly clean. The company in April applied to trademark “AT&T THANKS.” Frankly, it is hard to sympathize with either company as it claims the rights to such a common expression. The biggest problem however is that these companies enlist firms that send out demand letters and force settlements from small businesses or individuals using such terms or images. We have discussed how thuggish these legal factory operations can be in sending out these threats. The Obama Administration and Congress have been willing partners to powerful lobbyists seeking more and more draconian measures for copyright and trademark violations.

However, even if you wanted to, be careful in saying thank you after being fleeced. Civility is now owned by Citigroup.


Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Dido performing “Thank You”


Weather Report

75° Clear to Partly Cloudy



Big Bend Ranch State Park.

As you will recall, I began doing the daily “Weather Report” on this blog because, as days melted into one another, I needed a memory device to appreciate just how lucky I am to be living in a place where the weather is such a plus.

Before the “Weather Report,” I had scarcely given the weather much of a thought. After all, there was nothing I could do about it. Why stress out about something that was totally beyond my control?

Rain 1Now I’ve discovered another reason for appreciating the “Weather Report”: to realize how crummy the weather has been this month. August is almost over, and we’ve seen only 8 clear days, 5 cloudy days, and 17 rainy days out of 30 total—and there’s one August day left to go. I may as well be living in Seattle. I left Minneapolis to be done with the gray days, but I think they’ve been having more sunny days there. The ground here is saturated and I feel cheated.

I’ve long gotten over the satisfaction that my water tank is topped off and my pond is full. Watching water gush onto the ground from the top of the tank intensifies my regret that I have not yet had the money to buy (and hook up) a second water tank.

I have noticed that we now have mosquitoes (dumber and slower than the Minnesota variety) and a plague of biting flies (I speculate made worse by the high rainfall). If it gets much worse, I’m going to consider slashing my wrists.

But the forecast says the rain will only persist until Sunday.

After then, who knows?



Weather Report

73°  Cloudy and Rain




What you need to know about the alt-right movement

by the NPR Staff, National Public Radio

August 26, 2016

The presidential candidates this week accused one another of racism and bigotry, with Hillary Clinton arguing that Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies are an invitation to the “alt-right” movement.

“This is not Conservatism as we have known it,” the Democratic nominee said on Thursday during a speech in Reno NV. “This is not Republicanism as we have known it. These are racist ideas. These are race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim, anti-Immigrant, anti-women ideas—all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.'”

So what, exactly, is the “alt-right”?

The views of the alt-right are widely seen as anti-Semitic and white supremacist.

It is mostly an online movement that uses websites, chat boards, social media and memes to spread its message. (Remember the Star of David image that Trump received criticism for retweeting? That reportedly first appeared on an alt-right message board.)

Most of its members are young white men who see themselves first and foremost as champions of their own demographic. However, apart from their allegiance to their “tribe,” as they call it, their greatest points of unity lie in what they are against: multiculturalism, immigration, feminism and, above all, political correctness.

“They see political correctness really as the greatest threat to their liberty,” Nicole Hemmer, University of Virginia professor and author of a forthcoming book Messengers of the Right, explained on Morning Edition.

“So, they believe saying racist or anti-Semitic things—it’s is not an act of hate, but an act of freedom,” she said.

For that reason, as well as for fun and notoriety, alt-righters like to troll, prank and provoke.

One of their favorite slams is to label someone a “cukservative,” loosely translated by the Daily Caller as a cuckolded conservative, or “race traitor” who has surrendered his masculinity.

How does the alt-right movement differ from what we think of as traditional conservatism?

The movement’s origins are traced to many conservatives’ opposition to the policies of President George W. Bush, especially the US invasion of Iraq (alt-righters are strictly isolationist).

They are also suspicious of free-markets, a key tenet of conservatism, as they believe that business interests can often be in conflict with what they view as higher ideals—those of cultural preservation and homogeneity.

Allum Bokhari

Milo YiannopoulosTwo self-proclaimed leaders of the alt-right movement—Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos—recently outlined a manifesto of sorts for what group believes and who their allies are and are not. It claimed that “beltway conservatives” hate alt-right adherents even more “than Democrats or loopy progressives.”


They see themselves, rather, as “natural conservatives,” with an “instinctive wariness of the foreign and the unfamiliar,” Bokhari and Yiannopoulos wrote.

What is Trump’s connection to the alt-right?

Last week, the GOP presidential nominee announced that Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart News Network, which Bannon has called “the platform for the alt-right,” would be his campaign’s new chief executive.

“By putting Brietbart front and center in his campaign,” said Hemmer, “Trump has elevated the alt-right.”

But Hemmer suspects that Trump—and all but a small fraction of his supporters—do not pledge allegiance to the alt-right movement.

Yet, the movement has embraced Trump.

“I think they are attracted to Trump [and] see him as a vessel for getting their ideas out there,” Hemmer said.

And Clinton is likely to continue drawing a link between Trump and the alt-right in the minds of voters.

“She’s reminding those undecided voters that whatever the new moderate face of Donald Trump might be, there are the things he has said and here are the implications of the things he said and the people who he’s brought into his campaign,” said Hemmer.

How do alt-right leaders feel about Clinton’s statements?

They seem to be loving the attention. As Michelle Goldberg wrote in Slate:

“The white nationalist Richard Spencer was on vacation in Japan when he learned that Hillary Clinton was planning to give a speech about Donald Trump’s ties to the so-called alt right, and he was thrilled. ‘It’s hugely significant,’ Spencer told me by Skype from Kyoto. ‘When a presidential candidate—and indeed the presidential candidate who is leading in most polls—talks about your movement directly, I think you can safely say that you’ve made it.'”




Groove of the Day

Listen to U2 performing “The Hands That Built America”


Weather Report

74° Cloudy and Rain


nearly half

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Nearly Half Of Juvenile Centers Use Isolation As A Form Of Control

by Casey Quinlan, ThinkProgress

August 21, 2016

A West Virginia mother whose 16-year-old son was struggling with ADHD wanted to get him services but wasn’t sure what to do. The assistant principal at her son’s school suggested she file an incorrigibility petition — a status offense — against her son, whom we’ll call John, so he would be eligible for those services.

But John didn’t get any kind of help after his mother filed the petition. Instead, he was put on probation, and then in secure detention, and eventually on psychotropic medication. After being put on the new medication, John began to get into fights with other juveniles and was eventually placed in isolation for several months in secure detention.

John’s mother just wanted to get him help — not get him involved with the juvenile justice system. But according to Mishi Faruqee, the national field director of the Youth First Initiative who recounted John’s story to ThinkProgress, this situation is all too common.

All too often, when young people either spray graffiti or defy authority or skip school, they don’t receive help, such as counseling or academic services, but fall deeper and deeper into the juvenile justice system. It is also fairly common for staff to use isolation as a form of control, as staff likely did with John by placing him in isolation. Almost half of training schools and juvenile facilities use isolation to control the behavior of teens, and 62% of training schools use physical restraints, according to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that was released last week.

The Obama administration has recently brought more attention to the issue of isolation in juvenile facilities, banning federal prisons from keeping juveniles in solitary confinement. Though this ban only affects a relatively small number of juveniles being held in detention, advocates say it sends a strong message opposing isolation. But there is still a lot of work to do.

Isolation may seem insignificant to a person who hasn’t experienced it, but putting someone in a room for hours without anything to do — without so much as a magazine — can be a traumatic experience, especially for juveniles.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry put out a statement in 2012 asserting that measures such as solitary confinement of juveniles could be responsible for anxiety, depression, and even psychosis — and that isolation puts them in even more risk because their minds are still developing.

“The experience is traumatic and depressing and can have an enormous impact on kids’ mental health,” said Mark Soler, executive director for the Center for Children’s Law and Policy. “And of course children have a different sense of time than adults do. They perceive time as being longer because they don’t have the experience of adults, so it can be a very traumatic experience and can have lifelong consequences.”

Why staff isolate youth

Corrections officers don’t usually isolate juveniles as a whim, Soler said. In most cases, he said officers truly believe that isolation is the best tool they have to control a facility and keep youth— and themselves — safe. They may believe there is no other way to keep juveniles from escalating a fight.

“I don’t doubt the sincerity of the staff. I believe the staff really think they are going to be less safe if they can’t lock kids up in their rooms,” Soler said. “Some staff are just being resistant. But I think the great majority of staff are legitimately concerned about their ability to keep things under control at the facility and their own safety.”

For instance, LGBTQ kids are often put into isolation because staff argue that separating them from other juveniles is for their own protection. A disproportionate number of LGBT children are in the juvenile justice system, Soler pointed out. He added that through his observations, it would appear isolation is used more often on young people of color.

“They have different terms for it like protective custody — terms to make it seem more benign,” said Faruqee of Youth First Initiative said of LGBTQ kids. “But it is just as damaging to those young people to be in isolation.”

It’s also a convenient way for juvenile facilities to get around their legal responsibility to look after these groups to ensure they aren’t suffering maltreatment by other juveniles at the facility in the first place.

According to Faruqee, the use of isolation reflects a larger problem: the punitive nature of youth incarceration in general.

Although she supports efforts to reform the facilities, Faruqee pointed out that the facilities themselves were built on punishing juveniles and removing them from their communities and families. And even in situations where facilities stop using isolation, they may continue other problematic practices such as using mechanical restraints.

Faruqee referenced a facility in South Carolina where there were concerns about teens being held in isolation for more than six weeks at a time. The facility made some changes so that juveniles weren’t technically in isolation anymore — but didn’t go far enough.

“They were able to leave their rooms but whenever they left cells, they were in mechanical restraints, so full leg irons and handcuffs,” she said. “So these young people were in these handcuffs when they’re going to class, when they’re going to recreation, so they’re supposed to play basketball in these leg irons.”

A better way to treat teens

Soler argues that staff in juvenile facilities simply haven’t been trained to deescalate situations in a way that is appropriate for teenagers — and haven’t developed an understanding of why kids do what they do.

In order to fix this, Soler recommends that corrections officers should use training from Safe Crisis Management out of Pennsylvania, which is also recommended by the US Department of Justice.

“Eighty percent is about talking about what’s wrong,” Soler said. “Kids do a lot of things but they usually don’t just go off and get violent for no reason at all. There is some reason. It may not be a reason adults think is a good reason but it’s something kids think about and feel is important.”

For example, a teenager may think it’s important for him to defend his family’s reputation in the facility — so when someone criticizes a member of his family, he feels obligated to act.

A lot of misbehavior can be chalked up to teenagers being teenagers, however.

“Adolescent development teaches us that when a teenager doesn’t show respect to an authority figure, a teenager is being a regular teenager. That is what teenagers do,” Soler said. “It’s important for staff to understand that so if they talk to a child and a child talks back to them, they don’t take it personally.”

Experts like Soler recommend that if isolation is to be used at all, a maximum of four hours will allow kids to calm down and diffuse a potentially stressful situation. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, kids don’t have the energy to stay hyped up and ready for physical confrontation for that long. But beyond that time, isolation is only punitive.

Reforming a flawed system

Some states are making inroads to reforming the juvenile justice system, although progress is slow.

New York’s Close To Home program, for instance, allows juveniles to be placed in residential facilities and child care near their communities — instead of being sent to facilities hours away from their friends and families.

And after the Department of Justice investigated New York youth and adult prisons for the overuse of isolation, the state made significant progress reforming their prison system. New York took steps to prevent kids from ending up in the system to begin with by investing in community schools that provide more support services on campus, and is working on providing more therapeutic alternatives to incarceration. The D.C. prison and youth facility system has also made positive changes, although it has a long way to go toward improving facilities. The director of Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, Clinton Lacey, is leading efforts to train adult ex-offenders to mentor juveniles and favors a less punitive, reform approach to running facilities.

But Faruqee says a lot of this depends on the right leadership, and conditions can backslide without a strong advocate for reform at the helm — particularly because there are larger systemic problems that need to be addressed, such as why kids are in the juvenile justice system to begin with.

In too many cases, status offenses — or things that would be legal for adults to do but are illegal for children, such as running away, violating curfew or skipping school — are part of the reason kids who would benefit from social services are funneled into the system. John, the West Virginia teenager is a good example of this. His mother wanted to help him, but instead he wound up in detention.

Although children can’t be placed in detention for status offenses, they can be if they violate court orders as a result of the offense. It’s a loophole that Congress is working to close trying to pass a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974— but Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R), who once said the only problem with Guantanamo Bay Prison is that it has “too many beds,” refuses to budge on the issue.


Casey Quinlan is the education reporter at ThinkProgress.



Weather Report

78° Clear to Partly Cloudy and Rain


looking like a media launch

trump on tv.

Why Trump TV would be a huge failure

by Paul Waldman, The Week

August 23, 2016

Fifty-five years ago in his book The Image, historian Daniel Boorstin described the rise of what he called “pseudo-events,” occurrences which had little or no underlying reality, but had been arranged “for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced.” We’ve become so saturated in pseudo-events that we no longer question what they represent; indeed, much of our politics is a procession of events staged solely so they can be passed on in the media, from the press conference to the congressional hearing to the candidate’s anything-but-spontaneous visit to a diner or a shop floor. If no cameras were there to record them, everyone would stand around awkwardly for a few minutes and then depart.

Politics-as-pseudo-event has reached its apotheosis in the presidential run of Donald Trump, a man who managed to win the Republican nomination for president without anything resembling an actual campaign. Utilizing little more than rallies and endless interviews on Fox News, Trump berated and belittled over a dozen opponents into submission without bothering to create more than a skeletal campaign infrastructure, for which he is now suffering as he struggles through the general election. So perhaps it’s not surprising that as his campaign spirals downward, Trump is thinking about launching some kind of media network after the election is over. Much as he does when saddled with a wife inconsiderate enough to turn 40, Trump may be looking elsewhere for a more enticing option.

Two months ago, Sarah Ellison reported in Vanity Fair that Trump “has become irked by his ability to create revenue for other media organizations without being able to take a cut himself,” and was considering whether he might be able to create a cable channel of his own. Now look at who Trump has brought to his side. Stephen Bannon, the chief of Breitbart News, last week became CEO of the Trump campaign despite having no experience in campaigns. Trump is also being advised by Roger Ailes, recently deposed as head of Fox News after dozens of women came forward to charge him with sexual harassment. As CNN media reporter Brian Stelter said, Trump “might be thinking about a media enterprise, and if he is, Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon are the men you want in your corner.”

On the surface, it might make sense. Now that Trump has all these angry followers, would he actually just walk away without trying to turn them into dollars? And since Trump’s entire presidential campaign has been more of a media occurrence than something with actual substance, why not just transition it into Trump TV?

But there are some problems with that idea. Naturally, Trump would never participate in a media enterprise if it didn’t have his name splashed across every second of broadcast time or every web page. And I’m sure he thinks that if he did it, it would be a huge hit, just spectacular, believe me. But would it? What exactly would Trump TV look like? Just another Fox News? Or some combination of nativist politics and tours of Trump properties? It could get boring pretty darn fast.

Trump succeeded in the Republican primaries in no small part because he was an entertainer competing with politicians. But on television, he’d be an entertainer competing with other entertainers. In that context, he wouldn’t seem quite so unusual and compelling. Trump may have been a reality-show star, but it was on a show somebody else created—and it didn’t do as well as he’d like you to think. The Apprentice got good ratings for a few seasons, but it declined rapidly; as one media reporter described it, “When, after its sixth season in 2007, it finished as the 75th-most-watched show (with 7.5 million viewers on average), NBC decided to scrap real people as contestants and bring on celebrities close enough to rock bottom to appear on a reality show where success depended on ingratiating themselves to Trump. The celebrity show did better, but it has been middle of the pack all the way, with finishes ranking from 46th to 84th before Trump announced his candidacy and NBC replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.” You may be saying, “Wait, doesn’t Trump always say The Apprentice was the number one show on television?” Yes, he does and yes, he’s lying.

But even worse than Trump’s finite skills as an on-air performer is the fact that the Trump brand has been irretrievably poisoned by his presidential campaign. Trump spent decades working to make his name synonymous with luxury, quality, and success (which just happens to be the name of his cologne: Success by Trump), but what it actually came to represent was a particularly garish form of conspicuous consumption. If you have a private plane, plaster your name in 10-foot letters across it. Marry a procession of successively younger wives. Literally cover every surface of your apartment in gold, as though a Russian mobster was your decorator.

It was laughable in its vulgarity, but it still had an aspirational appeal for lots of people, particularly those held back by their own limited finances (not coincidentally, the same people Trump treated as marks for his Trump University and Trump Institute scams). That’s what I’d do if I had a billion dollars, they’d tell themselves. I’d shove my wealth in the face of anyone who had ever wronged or demeaned or ignored me, and then they’d know I was better than them.

But that’s no longer what the Trump name represents. His biggest venture has become his biggest failure, and in the process it exposed all his other failures. Before he ran for president, few people had heard of Trump University or Trump Steaks or Trump Vodka, and few understood just how noxious Trump’s beliefs are. But now they all do. When this is over, booking a room in a Trump hotel or buying a Trump tie—or tuning in to Trump TV—won’t mean you’re getting a taste of high living. It’ll mean you’re associating yourself with a bigot, an ignoramus, a revanchist, a buffoon with crazy ideas and infinite vanity.

And most of all, once the campaign is over, Trump will forever be the one thing he worked his whole life not to be: a loser. Who wants to watch that in prime time every night?


Paul Waldman is a weekly columnist and senior writer for The American Prospect. He also writes for the Plum Line blog at The Washington Post and The Week and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Beck performing “Loser”


Weather Report

78° Clear to Partly Cloudy and Rain


a prisoner speaks out


The Trouble With Prison
by Kenneth E. Hartman

In his Republic, Plato’s allegory of the cave describes how the limited perception of man leaves him measuring the world with only the distorted reflections of reality. The trouble with prison, as it is perceived, is the shadows are further distended by a variety of prisms that bend reality to suit a host of preconceptions, special interests and self-fulfilling prophecies. The end result of this shape-shifting is a system that produces failure as a matter of course, that pretends to protect the mass of society, and that destroys whole communities in its voracious appetite. The trouble with prison is prison.

I serve the other death penalty—life without the possibility of parole—for killing a man in a fistfight when I was 19 years old. In that I will never get out, I am freed to speak a more direct and unfiltered truth than those who must convince a panel of unsympathetic officials they should be returned to the real world. My 29 years of direct experience, coupled with a powerful thirst to come to grips with my own personal truth and gain an intellectually valid grasp of this world, have taught me a series of lessons. While I do not claim to have unchained myself completely from the bonds of ignorance, I believe I can read and interpret accurately the tortured shapes on the dull concrete walls of this particular cave.

People are put in prison because nothing else works. This is the foundational misperception that supports the prison edifice. The truth is far less simple. There are prisoners whose lifetime of dangerous behavior leaves prison as the only choice for society. But these are a tiny minority in the sea of pathetic misfits and perennial losers walking the yards.

Most prisoners are uneducated, riddled with unresolved traumas and ill-treated mental health problems, drug and alcohol addictions, and self-esteem issues that are beyond profound, bordering on the pathological far too often. The vast majority has never received competent health care, mental health care, drug treatment, education or even an opportunity to look at themselves as human. Were any of these far less draconian interventions even tried, before the descent into this wretched cave, no doubt many of my peers would be leading productive lives. Nothing else works is not a statement of fact; it is the declaration of an ideology. This ideology holds that punishment, for the sake of the infliction of pain, is the logical response to all misbehavior. It is also a convenient cover story behind which powerful special interest groups hide.

Prison employees benefit by our failure. This startling fact contains within it a monstrous truth. These well-organized government workers created the victims’ rights movement, a sad shill for the prison-industrial complex. Using the handful of politically active victims of crime to obscure their actual agenda, propositions are passed, laws are changed, and policies that could prevent victimization in the first place are suppressed. Both of these groups, working in tandem with the corporations that supply and construct prisons, pour millions of dollars into the political process to achieve a system guaranteed to fail. But this failure by any other measure—high rates of recidivism, high rates of internal disorder, growing prison populations serving longer sentences—results in greater profits to the corporations, increased membership in the unions, and ever growing piles of dollars to buy still more influence.

After reading a small library of books and studies on the subject, along with my direct experience, it is clear only three rehabilitative programs have proof of success. Increased and enhanced visiting to build and maintain family ties, higher education, and quality drug and alcohol treatment constitutes this golden triad. It is not a closely held secret that these work to lower recidivism and, thus, prevent victimization; rather, this is well known. Nevertheless, the special interest groups lobby incessantly against all three. In my 29 years, visiting has deteriorated from a slightly unpleasant experience to a hostile and traumatic acid bath that quite effectively destroys family ties. Higher education is virtually nonexistent but for those few with the substantial resources needed to purchase it. In those rare cases where innovative ways have been found to bring education back into the prisons the special interest groups have mounted vicious campaigns to terminate the programs. The opposition to drug and alcohol treatment, much more widely supported in the body politic, is subtler. Using the proven method of compulsory participation by the least amenable, those programs that are instituted are crippled in the normal chaos of prison. All of this opposition stands behind the banner of protecting victims’ rights, as if only the desire for revenge by past victims of crime matters, over even the potential losses of future victims.

With recidivism rates well beyond two-thirds, the assumption for all prisoners is that of failure. It is written into the policies of prison that force parolees back to failed situations, that site prisons far from the urban areas most prisoners come from, and provide no after-parole assistance. When I first came into the California state system in the late ‘70s, a parolee received a decent set of clothes, a bus ticket and $200 in cash. Today’s parolee receives a sweat suit unsuitable for a job interview and $200; out of which is deducted the cost of his bus ticket and decades of devaluation. The parolee, having received no real substance abuse treatment, no serious education or training, no useful mental health counseling, and holding barely enough money for a short stay in a flophouse, is cast back out into the real world to swim or, more likely, sink. The aid that would make the transition more likely successful is denied, ostensibly, to save money. The pennies it would take to reestablish the parolee vanish next to the fifty thousand a year it costs to re-incarcerate the parole violator.

Yet again, sadly, it becomes clear on close inspection that without our mass failure the gears of the prison-industrial complex would stop. Jobs would be lost, rural communities devastated, and the flow of political contributions would dry up. From the perspective of those who depend on our failure to sustain themselves, our success would be a disaster. In my state, an admitted extreme example, on any given day about half the prison population are parole violators, a majority of whom have broken no law but rather violated one of the vast web of confusing and devious tripwire rules they must navigate around on the other side of the fences.

Failure is expected, a bad enough thing, to be sure. Worse, failure is celebrated and lauded. The primary rationale of parole divisions is to lock as many ex-cons as possible back into the prisons. There are gang task forces, and drug task forces, and absconder recovery units, and high control teams, all of which operate on a presumption of failure. These black-clad, helmeted law enforcement platoons prowl the alleys and back streets of the inner cities hunting down parolees. They justify the over-application of picayune rules as preventing the assumed major crimes the parolee is bound to commit, eventually. After the high-fives and backslapping are over, parole officers content themselves with their sense of exacting a frighteningly prospective form of justice. The now current convict heads back for another year or two of dehumanization for forgetting to report he moved or talking to his cousin also on parole.

The prison system dresses itself in a cloak of respectability by claiming to protect society from the “worst of the worst.” At a certain level, this is true. There are some irredeemables, those who should not be allowed to prey on society ever again. The trouble with this assertion, and the direction it has taken, is there just aren’t enough worst of the worst to justify the concrete and razor wire empire, not to the extent it has grown. The definition of who fits into this excluded class has expanded dramatically over the years, along with the borders of the system. Now, along with the serial predator is housed the serial drug addict and the serial shoplifter and the serial loser, all serving extraordinarily long sentences on prison yards devoid of even a semblance of rehabilitation. This in the name of protecting society.

Policies are enacted that are purposely brutal by staff who have been trained to view prisoners as less than human, to believe that their real role is to exact revenge, who see us in all ways the enemy, the dangerous other. This message, that we are not fully human, is pressed into us every moment of every day in a multitude of ways from the mundane (being forced to wear pants with “PRISONER” stamped on the leg in neon orange lettering) to the profound (being prevented from conducting a business or owning property). This results in a diminishing of our consciousness to that of the unwelcome alien. From inside this dark recess, it is near to impossible imagining rejoining humanity. As one state senator in California observed, “If you were to set out to design a system to produce failure, this would be it.” It is not surprising this elected official represents an area that has disproportionately suffered due to these policies and was a professor of psychology before assuming office.

Whole communities have been decimated, literally, by the policies of the system. People of color, the poor and the dispossessed, are represented in numbers far exceeding their share of society. It starts on streets patrolled by an occupying force of police who view these people as less than, as suspects first and foremost. Arrests are made for the most trivial offenses, for the little acts of rebellion and frustration not uncommon to young people everywhere. But down on the occupied bottom of society there is no call made to mommy and daddy. No well-dressed lawyer will show up in court with a privately contracted psychologist to explain junior’s learning disability. A bored, too often hostile, public defender will convince the youth to take a plea bargain that 20 years later becomes the first strike in a life sentence for boosting a ham. Once a name has a criminal justice system number affixed to it, the move from possible suspect to probable offender is complete. In some of the worst off communities, every third or fourth man, and a growing number of women, carry a number on their shoulders.

As the mass of people in this country who labor to carry a number grows so, too, does the harm caused and exacerbated by the prison system. No longer a tiny fringe of malcontents and unrepentant thugs, we who have sprung from the electrified fences and gun towers, from inside the racially polarized and ganged-up yards, who have spent a significant portion of our lives locked into tiny concrete boxes bending over and spreading our cheeks, are a growing segment of the real world. We have spouses and children, parents and siblings, and our influence on the collective consciousness is solidifying. It is seen in the glorification of violence and the fascination with acts of irrational and pointless rage that fills the media and dominates the lives of prisoners. It is heard in the adoption of jailhouse terms applied to schools put on “lockdown” and street cops “kickin’ it with the homies.” It is felt in the tighter ring of controls that encircle the lives of free people in the real world, a disturbing reflection of the world of prisoners.

Prison is insatiable and unquenchable. It devours everything in its path and swallows whole anything that attempts to deter it. All these years I have spent inside I have observed just how effectively the system crushes its opposition. The well meaning and good-hearted eventually surrender to the overwhelming force and terrible despair. Not least of which, that pouring out of the desperate flailing of prisoners ourselves as we beat our heads against the walls of our internal exile with a maniacal ferocity. We internalize the separation and removal, the assumed less-than status, and hold up the idiotic and vainglorious pride we pretend to like clowns’ make-up to hide our shame. Some of us profess to be immune to the battering we endure; many of us deny it happening in spite of the obvious bruises. In the end, the vast majority of us become exactly who we are told we are: violent, irrational, and incapable of conducting ourselves like conscious adults. It is a tragic opera with an obvious outcome.

The talk lately making the rounds in political circles, among the power brokers and well heeled, is of reviving the idea of rehabilitation. The past decades of exploding costs and terrible outcomes, particularly as schools and old folks homes are closed to bridge budget shortfalls, has allowed the concept of using prison to correct, to heal and restore, to be taken seriously again. This is a good thing. It is long overdue. But it is an idea that will have to battle powerful forces determined to diminish it into a shadow without substance. It will face the added complexity of implementation managed by guards and administrators, teachers and counselors who fundamentally reject the notion that prisoners are capable of being restored. Along with this uphill climb, dragging along the recalcitrant, will be the added obstacle of the special interest groups defending their world of failure. The simple truth is the less of us the less of them. If we stop coming back their world will collapse.

Still, the greatest struggle to effect change will be convincing the mass of prisoners, the millions of men and women who have been brainwashed into believing they simply cannot become better. At the head of this mass will be the seeming leadership from our own ranks, those who have used the status quo to achieve a perverse success. They are the drug dealers and negative leaders, the phony writ writers, the whole group of profiteers and self-servers who will seek to undermine positive change because in it they glimpse the end of their domination of the dysfunction. That they aid and assist the special interest groups, the organized revenge groups and the corporations profiting off of our collective misery is obvious. Heedless, they will seek to maintain the failed system through acts of atavistic violence and jackass resistance. They might succeed in stifling change, and not for the first time. This is the modern world of prison, constructed after 25 years of surrendering to fear mongers and manipulators. It is a fearsome mess.

The trouble with prison is, indeed, prison itself. The way prison is managed and envisioned. The idea that by humiliating and brutalizing damaged people some possible good could result is simply a falsehood, a lie perpetrated by interests who benefit from failure. It has never worked. It is not working now. It will never work. No amount of money poured down society’s communal drain will buy success. No minimum number of broken bodies and tortured spirits will purchase rehabilitation. No pyre of burnt offerings, no matter how large and hot, will somehow result in better people walking out the front gate in their gray sweat suits. The problems are systemic and resilient. Nothing short of radical and sustained reform will be enough to overcome the resistance of a system built to fail. It may not be possible, but to not try is to condemn thousands upon thousands of our fellow human beings to a witches’ brew of victimizations, in here and out there. To not try would be an act of cowardly capitulation to bullies and thugs. To not try is to become like those who have erected this system, who keep it going, who must somehow sleep with what they do.


Kenneth E. Hartman has served over 29 continuous years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on a life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) sentence. He is an award-winning writer and prison reform activist. His memoir of prison life Mother California will be published by Atlas & Co. He was instrumental in the founding of the Honor Program at the California State Prison-Los Angeles County. He is currently leading a grassroots organizing campaign, conducted solely by LWOP prisoners, with the ultimate goal of abolishing this other death penalty.



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little boxes

london suburb 1930s
shell is hell.

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get happy




Groove of the Day

Listen to Judy Garland performing “Get Happy”


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scarecrow village

This past weekend I heard a radio report on the aging of the Japanese population, in which the elderly now account for a quarter of that nation’s population. Almost in passing, the commentator mentioned “Scarecrow Village,” a small place that has become a minor tourist site as it depopulates. I went searching on the internet, and found this article, which I thought you’d enjoy.



Tsukimi Ayano arranges a scarecrow at a bus stop in the mountain village of Nagaro.


Welcome to Scarecrow Village

In a tiny Japanese village, scarecrows outnumber the residents

by Sarah Eberspacher, The Week

To describe the village of Nagoro, Japan, as “tiny” would be an overstatement. The hamlet in the southern part of the country boasts only 35 aging villagers. But one resident has been steadily bolstering this fading population with a dedicated, if lethargic, group of bystanders.



Tsukimi Ayano, the 65-year-old Wizard of Oz in this land of puppets, made her first scarecrow 13 years ago. It was an inspiration born of necessity—to ward off the birds that flocked to her garden. When she finished stitching together the garden’s new protector, Ayano realized she’d made a scarecrow with a striking resemblance to her father.


ScarecrowFATHERTsukimi Ayano arranges a scarecrow meant to represent her father, near a tree.


And so Ayano began to create the scarecrow versions of other villagers, family members, and friends, capturing their likenesses and placing the completed projects around Nagoro. To date, she’s crafted more than 350 straw dolls. Other villagers have gotten in on the game, too.

“(Now), they’re created as requests for those who’ve lost their grandfather or grandmother,” Osamu Suzuki, a Nagoro resident, told Reuters. “So it’s indeed something to bring back memories.”





Like many of Japan’s small, rural communities, Nagoro is slowly losing its residents to cities, leaving behind only the retirees. In 2012, Nagoro’s only school shut down, after its two pupils graduated. The building is far from deserted, though; Ayano simply set up new pupils, on whom she checks when she makes her daily rounds through the village.





The scarecrows are everywhere now: plowing an empty field; watching over the post office; even hopping on a bicycle near the outskirts of town. It can be a little unnerving, but Ayano’s rather macabre creations have given the town some much-needed attention. And the tourists that are beginning to travel to see the “Scarecrow Village” can count on a personal tour from Ayano — provided, she says, that they do not arrive when her television soap operas air.





Sarah Eberspacher is an engagement editor in New York City with the Guardian US. Before her present job, she was an assistant photo editor, Saturday news editor, and associate editor for over two years at, from whence this article comes. All photos by Thomas Peter, of Reuters.



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trump memes & cartoons

Some of my favorites from the past week…


Trump Sandwich.



twilight zone.

white trash.


Trump Meme




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