Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guess the World Hot Spot

Choose the Hot Spot:

a) Beirut, Lebanon
b) Seoul, South Korea
c) Ferguson, Missouri
d) Caracas, Venezuela

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson: When cops become vigilantes

There are numerous issues related to the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri that deserve analysis, but I’m focusing on one area here: The attempt by Ferguson police to demonize Michael Brown. Despite Justice Department warnings, the Ferguson police department released security video of what is purported to be Brown stealing cigars from a local convenience store. The obvious ploy is to paint Brown as a thief and troublemaker who may have got what he deserved.

This kind of blatant race baiting will probably work by reaffirming the bigoted views of a certain segment of people, including FOX news hosts and viewers, but most Americans should be able to see through this crude charade.

Who hasn’t heard the iconic opening lines to the TV show “Law and Order?”

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.

The show is fiction, but this single sentence encapsulates an important truth. In the United States, we have law enforcement and we have a judicial system, and they have distinct and separate duties. The police investigate crimes and arrest individuals suspected of committing crimes. Those accused then enter the judicial system where they are judged innocent or guilty, and if guilty, receive punishment. Police do not have the power to deliver justice. They can use force to protect themselves or others, but they cannot decide who is guilty or innocent of a crime, that is for the courts.

This brings me to shooting of Michael Brown. Whether Brown robbed a convenience store or not, it is up to the judiciary to decide his guilt or innocence, not the cops. If Michael Brown committed murder, it is still not up to the cops to act as judge and jury. Sure, the Ferguson police department is trying to protect one of its own, but by releasing the convenience store video, they have opened the door to accusations that perhaps they believe they have the power to be judge, jury and executioner. The unarmed Brown was shot six times, twice in the head.

Should anyone be surprised that members of the African American community of Ferguson are angry?

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Short Scary Stories

Over the past couple of months I’ve become addicted to writing very short horror stories that I then post on a Reddit sub called: Short Scary Stories (duh). Go to They're Only Shadows and check out four of the stories I’ve recently submitted.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is Ferguson a glimpse of America’s future?

Police brutality has been around since the dawn of human civilization, and is far too often a common occurrence in marginalized areas of society. What’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, however, goes well beyond “police brutality” to a new realm resembling a military occupation. Armed to the teeth, using terror as a tactic, assaulting and arresting the media, overreacting to provocation; these are the actions of a force not bent on restoring order, but on intimidating and expunging anyone who dares question their authority.

The riots, following the shooting of an unarmed black man by police, are a lamentable but understandable reaction to yet another attack on a civilian by a law enforcement department that does not feel it is accountable to anyone. These types of incidents are becoming more and more common, as very little is done to bring the perpetrators to justice. Police departments and their enablers in the justice system consistently turn a blind eye to police who commit crimes, encouraging an environment of lawlessness and overreach among others.

The question that has to be asked about the situation in Ferguson and similar incidents is this: What is the mindset of the police involved? Do they believe they are there to stop lawlessness and illegal activity or do they see themselves as society’s tool for keeping order at any cost? Harassing and arresting reporters definitely falls into the latter category.

The footage of the riots in Ferguson look more like a scene from some third world country where the military is routinely sent in to quell disturbances, more often than not with bloody force. Is this America’s future we’re watching? It seems to me we dangerously close to crossing the line between enforcing the law and the active suppression of Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

R.I.P. Participatory Democracy

This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention, but if you’re just waking up from a twenty-year coma, I hate to be the one to tell you, but American democracy passed away while you were gone. A recent study by two university professors has confirmed what many of us already new intuitively: The average American has virtually no say in how our country is run anymore.

The new study, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," will be published in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. The authors are Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. Simply put, when compared to the power of the wealthy elite, corporations and organized interest groups, the influence of the average American is, “non-significant, near-zero level.”

The elites and interest groups, with their truckloads of money and armies of lobbyists, have the greatest impact on government policy in Washington. And when their desires are at odds with those of the majority of Americans, which is often, guess who wins? It ain’t you and me.

Is there any question why so many citizens have stopped participating in elections? Year after year, election after election, we signal our desires and concerns at the ballot box, only to have the door of the White House and Congress shut in our faces. Recent Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United have clearly made the problem worse, turning our government over to the highest bidder. We are now “non-significant” entities, allowed by our overseers to go through the motions of living in a democracy, but shut out of the real policy debates and decisions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My short story on Youtube

A short story of mine, "The Halloween Prank," is featured on a Youtube series called Tales of Tim. He narrates and illustrates short horror stories, and it's really nicely done. Check it out here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the crosshairs of the surveillance state

An article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic titled, “Does John Brennan know too much for Obama to fire him?” looks at an issue that I have brought up a number of times before. I think it is very possible that we are in a situation where the CIA, NSA and other spy agencies are allowed to virtually write their own playbook because they have potentially damaging information on top officials in Washington, including Obama.

The author of the article guesses that the information in CIA Director Brennan’s case might be related to illegal drone attacks that violated international law. Very possible, I agree, but it could be any number of things in Obama’s past that Brennan might hang over the President’s head. As I’ve said before, the extortion of those in the executive and legislative branches does not have to be explicit at all. No threats have to be made. You can assume that if you made an embarrassing misstep in your past, the CIA and NSA know about it too.

It will take a future President with a whole lot of courage (if there is such a thing) to truly rein in America’s bloated surveillance state.

Friday, August 08, 2014

America's fatal addiction to violence

So we’re back in Iraq bombing the country again for “humanitarian purposes.” What have we as a nation become? Every time there is an international challenge, from Syria to Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan, our response is to use violence. The horrible irony is that the actions of the Bush Administration created the conditions for the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and, despite the failures of our past approach we are responding with more violence. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

America’s knee-jerk reaction to resort to violence as the solution of first choice illustrates how morally bankrupt we’ve become as a nation. These aren’t the actions of a powerful, confident country, but reflect a weak, fearful America that thinks it can shape the world in its image by intimidation. It didn’t work for Rome or France or Britain or Spain, and it won’t work for us.

It’s Friday and many Americans are planning weekends lounging around a pool, playing golf, going to a baseball game or heading to the cabin. Unlike Iraqi’s, they won’t have to worry about bombs raining from the sky on their homes or hospitals or churches. Thirteen years later we continue to use 9/11 as an excuse to unleash violence anywhere we want for any reason we choose. History clearly demonstrates that a nation with his attitude is a nation in decline.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The War on (Legalizing) Drugs

There are a number of powerful organizations across the country using their money and influence to try and stop marijuana legalization. They have a legal right to do this, of course, but it’s their motives that are highly problematic. From law enforcement organizations to pharmaceutical companies to private prisons and prison guards to alcohol and beer companies, the reason they oppose legal marijuana revolves around profits. It all boils down to money.

As knowledge about cannabis has spread, the “all drugs are bad” mentality has shifted, and there are few serious attempts anymore to portray marijuana as the devil weed of depraved and soulless addicts. Today’s opponents of legalization have much more practical objections. Once again, capitalism raises its amoral head. For the companies that object to legalization, arguments do not revolve around what’s clearly the right thing to do for society, but how legalization will affect their bottom lines. There’s no concern for the tens of thousands of people doing hard time in prison for being caught with a baggie of pot. There’s no sympathy for the disproportionately large number of African Americans serving time for pot possession. There’s no interest in the scientific findings that marijuana is far less hazardous to a person’s health and far less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Our allegiance, they will gladly tell you, is to our shareholders and investors.

Although their objections to marijuana legalization are morally repugnant, it’s not hard to understand the resistance of police and private prisons. The more people they arrest and lock up, the more money they make through various channels. The groups that puzzle me are the alcohol and pharmaceutical companies. Both of these industries seem perfectly suited to take advantage of legalization and profit form it. They already have distribution channels, staff for research and development, and in the case of alcohol companies, a network of farmers who would probably be happy to grow marijuana alongside their hops and barley.

The other aspect to consider is the inevitability of legalization. Spending tens of millions of dollars opposing the will of the American people seems incredibly stupid from a business standpoint. The snowball is rolling down the hill and while some efforts may succeed in slowing it down, it won’t be stopped. If I were Anheuser Busch, I’d quit throwing money away on anti-legalization efforts and put it toward retooling the company to start growing, packaging and selling pot. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if behind the scenes, they weren’t already doing just that.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Obama hatres stricke agin

Gun nuts are going after your children

Here’s your dose of insanity for the day. Brian Jeffs and Nathan Nephew have just published a book extoling the virtues of open carry, and it’s aimed (sorry) at kids.

"Before writing this, we looked for pro-gun children's books and couldn't find any," say the authors, who, I can only guess, would be surprised to learn there aren’t any children’s books about parents carrying chainsaws or flame throwers, either.

Imagine the family sitting around the dinner table and Mother turns to her ten-year old daughter.

“I saw you with your nose in a book, Emily. What are you reading?”

“Oh, it’s a book about how cool it is to wear a gun to the mall.”

“A gun? At the mall?”

“Sure. Can I get one? Please, please, please? Cindy said her parents are getting her a gun that’s pink.”

Beyond the crazed content, the illustration on the cover looks like Ned Flanders’ family on vacation in Zombieland.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Short Scary Stories

Over the past few months I've been wasting my time writing very short horror stories (under 275 words) for a subreddit called (you probably already guessed): Super short scary stories. Anyway, if you're interested in reading some, just go here and search under "minnboy."