tinas_trailer
Not a feel-good post. No serve-cookies-to-homeless-kids kinda holiday joy. Nope. I’m too worried about a formerly-and-(likely)soon-to-be-homeless family, mom and her 7 small kids that I know. 

Stop with the “why did she have 7 kids if she was going to be homeless?” crap. That’s a dead giveaway that you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, and you certainly don’t understand homelessness. Few women I know planned for homelessness. Most don’t have 100% control over their reproductive “choices,” to say the least. Need to know more? View my film, on the edge: Family Homelessness in America.

Tina’s homeless/near-homelessness saga has been going on for years following the divorce which needed to happen. It’s an in/out form of torture that would appeal to the likes of Dick Cheney. You think you can breathe once you get your “own” place—a HUD-subsidized rental that often comes with a landlord that thinks roaches and other vermin should be on the lease—then your life crumbles again

Tina sat talking to me last year as roaches scampered up and down the walls and across the same floor her baby girl crawled on. Not because Tina was slovenly—quite the contrary. She had done everything possible at her own expense to rid this place of the critters. She had to move. 

Tina would tell you she was “lucky,” having the double-wide roof over her head after living in a 13’ camper for 6 months—extreme heat and cold temperatures—while she and her kids waited for the crumpled housing assistance “program” in this country to work for them.

They’ve lived in this Las Cruces house for the past 11+ months. The landlord gets paid promptly per his Section 8 agreement with the housing authority. Tina pays her share of the rent, $168, from the pittance of child support she gets. They don’t party or do other things to make them bad tenants. Nope. This one’s on the landlord.

Possible financial troubles? I’ve tried calling him, to no avail. I was going to beg for an extension for Tina and her kids. Moving at Christmas sucks. 

What sucks more is that they can’t find a place to rent. Her housing certificate guarantees her rent. She’s diligently scoured the list the housing authority gave her.

She and I both shudder at the looming possibility of her not finding a place to live. The lack of affordable housing, especially rental housing for large families, is dire. It’s a major cause of family homelessness.

Oh yeah, to make things worse, Las Cruces has no family shelter that will take her older boys. Few know that many shelters, especially gospel missions and privately-run shelters don’t accept boys over the age of 10 or so. And the only family shelter in Las Cruces is the rescue mission.

My nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., will help her if she finds a place. Even with the Section 8 certificate, the renter has to come up with the deposit, far beyond her budget. 

Countless families like Tina’s face this same daunting challenge. Too many people don’t know it’s happening. Too many elected officials don’t seem to care enough to push for an adequate supply of decent affordable housing. 

Few mayors follow the admirable efforts of NYC’s Mayor de Blasio who wants impoverished families to at least have access to a lawyer when facing eviction and other common legal housing related dilemmas. 

I’ve communicated with the Las Cruces mayor, Ken Miyagishima. He’s helped before. But this time it will take a miracle, coming up with a 3-4 bedroom rental in less than 2 weeks. 

The reality of family homelessness is that it’s never pretty. Seeing it up close at this otherwise festive time of the year hits me hard, and I’m not the one who will be living on the streets with my 7 vulnerable kids. 

HELP! I don’t know what else to say. (If you know of a viable possibility in Las Cruces, contact me.)

Under billions of tons of imports, the American dream is suffocating.

The American people have lost faith. They know that bad trade has bled factories, middle class jobs and wage increases from the country.

A report issued last week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) details how bad trade has cost Americans hope. And hope is the essence of the American dream, hope for a good, steady job with benefits and a pension, one that supports a family and a home, one that enables the kids to achieve even better lives. Bad trade has battered all of that. And more damage is threatened by pending trade deals and a so-called fast track process to approve them without in-depth deliberation.

The EPI report, China, Trade, Outsourcing and Jobs, details the devastation caused by just one trade arrangement, the deal to allow China to enter the World Trade Organization in 2001. After that, the United States’ trade deficit with China climbed dramatically.

As a result, EPI calculated that between 2001 and 2013, the United States lost 3.2 million jobs. Every state and every Congressional district except one lost jobs because of ever rising imports from China that were not matched by exports from the United States.

And most of the destroyed jobs – 2.4 million – were good, family-supporting manufacturing positions.

The workers jilted from those jobs suffered terribly. Those who could get new work earned less because pay for exporting industries and service employment is lower than that for jobs slashed by imports. EPI figures the net wage loss at $37 billion per year.

In addition, trade with low-wage countries like China suppressed pay in the United States by 5.5 percent – about $1,800 a year – for full-time workers without college degrees. The nation has 100 million such workers. That loss to them and the U.S. economy: $180 billion.

It’s gut wrenching. And Americans feel it. A New York Times poll released last week found the lowest level of faith in the American dream in two decades. Only 64 percent of those surveyed believed.

Despite low gas prices, declining unemployment, and falling foreclosures, Americans perceive a shrinking future.  That’s because virtually everyone knows someone who worked at a factory that closed.

Frank Walsh talked to the New York Times last week about what it’s like to lose a good job. He hasn’t worked as an electrician in four years. He’s run up $20,000 in credit card debt and withdrawn $15,000 from his retirement account. “I lost my sense of worth, you know what I mean?” Walsh told the New York Times.

He was among those polled by the Times, CBS News and Kaiser Family Foundation as they looked at the lives of the 30 million Americans aged 25 to 54 who are jobless. The share of unemployed men in this age group has more than tripled since the late 1960s.

The poll found the 10 million men in this group unhappy to be out of work and eager to find new jobs. Like Walsh, they struggle with loss of income and dignity.

Though skilled, Walsh couldn’t find new work that would enable him to earn what he did as a union electrician. Even for those willing to take minimum wage jobs, securing work isn’t easy, with 30 million unemployed people and 4.8 million job openings.

Eighty-five percent of the men in the survey did not have bachelor’s degrees. And for them, landing a family-supporting job is much harder than it once was. The Times explains why: “Foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated many of the jobs in which high school graduates like Mr. Walsh once could earn $40 an hour, or more.”

Foreign competition means trade.  And the problem for workers like Walsh is that there’s too much bad trade and very little done about it.

My union, the United Steelworkers, has fought bad trade vigorously, filing cases repeatedly with the U.S. Commerce Department seeking sanctions against foreign producers of steel, paper, tires and renewable energy technologies such as solar panels. To win these cases, though, the law says industry and workers must first suffer losses and unemployment. And wins too often are quickly followed by new losses.

Tires are a good example. The USW sought relief after imports of Chinese tires surged by 75 percent from 2004 to 2007. Four U.S. tire plants closed, destroying 5,100 jobs. Shortly after the USW petitioned for sanctions in 2009, three more factories shut down, killing an additional 3,000 jobs.

President Obama imposed three years of tariffs, and the U.S. tire industry rebounded, increasing production and employment. But as soon as the sanctions ended, Chinese tire imports surged again, and U.S. production and jobs declined again.

So the USW filed another trade case in June. A preliminary ruling by the Commerce Department determined sanctions were justified because China was providing improper subsidies to its tire makers.

And that’s the point. American workers aren’t whining. They can compete with anyone in the world on an even playing field. But when foreign countries provide illegal subsidies, manipulate their currency, and hand no-cost land, no-interest loans and tax breaks to producers, then it’s bad trade.

It’s trade that kills U.S. jobs and wrecks American lives. Producing in a country where exploitation of workers is permitted and environmental regulations are non-existent certainly lowers costs. But prohibited subsidies such as currency manipulation and tax forgiveness are much more significant. 

American workers need a new kind of trade agreement, one that protects U.S. industry and workers from bad trade practices before they close factories, destroy jobs and devastate communities.

And yet, the United States is negotiating massive trade agreements with European and Pacific Rim nations in secret, so there’s no way to know if they are any different from previous bad trade deals. In addition, some supporters are seeking fast track negotiating authority under which Congress would relinquish its right to make changes.

Congress must reject fast track and realize its duty to protect American industry and workers. It must end bad trade to revive the American dream.

Earlier this week, the lgbt community suffered a nasty defeat in Fayetteville, Arkansas. According to LGBTQNation:

Voters in Fayetteville, Ark., on Tuesday repealed a controversial LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance approved by the city council in August.

KFSM-TV reports that 52 percent of voters cast ballots to repeal the ordinance, compared to 48 percent who voted to retain the measure — a difference of fewer than 500 votes, with turnout less than 30 percent of registered voters.The ordinance, approved by the city council in a 6-2 vote on August 20, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations.

LGBTQNation points out how this vote got nationwide attention due to the inclusion of the reality television stars, the Duggar family:

Opposition to the ordinance gained national attention due in part to the efforts of the Duggar family of TLC’s reality series “19 Kids and Counting.” In August, Duggar matriarch Michelle Duggar recorded a robocall urging residents to pressure council members to oppose the measure, claiming it would lead to women going topless at public swimming pools, men using women’s restrooms, and allow pedophiles and sexual predators to abuse people. As of October 31, the Duggars had donated $10,000 toward the city council campaigns of the ordinance’s three most outspoken critics, two of whom were listed as contacts on a press release for the repeal effort.

In fact, when vote was announced, Josh Duggar, who spoke against the ordinance and is also employed by the anti-gay Family Research Council, sent out a mindboggling tweet claiming that overturning the ordinance was in actuality a victory for equality.

One good thing about this setback – however minor – is that it exposes the hypocritical nature of the Duggar family.

Folks who were angry at how the Duggars were spreading inaccurate information about the ordinance signed a petition demanding that their show be canceled. Other lgbt activists used the controversy to raise a large amount of money for an Arkansas charity, Lucie’s Place, devoted to helping homeless lgbt youth.

The Duggars themselves and their allies claimed that they were under a so-called “malicious attack” by “radical homosexual activists” who attacked them because of their faith and sought to deny them their “religious liberty.”

However, this victory in Fayetteville contradicts the “religious liberty” card played by the Duggars.

You can’t exploit your fame as reality tv stars to bear false witness against the lgbt community and deny us equality while simultaneously claiming victimhood status when we react to your actions.

The sad thing is that I think the Duggars family actually think they can get away with this subterfuge.

The good thing is that in reality, they can’t. And they won’t.

In its deranged madness to prevent a second 9/11 attack on "the homeland", the United States tortured and brutalized suspected "terrorists" with drownings, beatings, forcing food through their anuses, handcuffing people with broken legs to the ceiling, parading them around naked, threatening to sexually assault their mothers and families, exposing them to extreme temperatures, and sensory deprivation.

This is a sterile bullet point-like summary--the irony of that office speak MBA language is fitting and unintentionally macabre and darkly humorous--of the tortures that the CIA will publicly admit to having committed; the real horrors are likely far worse, hiding behind redacted passages and in dark corners, hushed rumors that circulate in the alcohol influenced bar and private conversations of CIA agents and private contractors, never to be publicly admitted to or spoken of.

A willfully ignorant public and a deceptive lying chattering class wrap themselves in American exceptionalism as a means of claiming surprise, shock, and horror at the faux revelations in the CIA torture report. They do this because the truth cannot be reconciled with the myths of an America that never really existed.

America tortures people. It has done this domestically to war resisters, conscience objectors, pacifists, suffragettes, slaves, civil rights workers, and inmates.

Inflicting pain on the black body is a special obsession and paraphilia for white America. In its pogroms, land theft, and riots, white Americans lynched at least 10,000 black citizens.

The CIA torture report is a damning document and a difficult read. It is child's fare compared to the tortures inflicted on black people by white folks for centuries in their ritual birthright of American Apartheid and Jim Crow.

A member of the white lynching party that destroyed Mr. Claude Neal in 1934 offers this account of White America's habit of racial torture on the black body:

“After taking the nigger to the woods about four miles from Greenwood, they cut off his penis. He was made to eat it. Then they cut off his testicles and made him eat them and say he liked it. Then they sliced his sides and stomach with knives and every now and then somebody would cut off a finger or toe. Red hot irons were used on the nigger to burn him from top to bottom.” From time to time during the torture a rope would be tied around Neal’s neck and he was pulled up over a limb and held there until he almost choked to death when he would be let down and the torture begin all over again. After several hours of this unspeakable torture, “they decided just to kill him.”

The United States has tortured people abroad in its wars, secret prisons, and other covert operations. Because the United States has historically been, and remains in the present, a white racist society, it is far easier to torture those who are marked as some type of Other.

Thus, white on black and brown racial violence and torture is far more common than white on white torture.

The United States is also an expert in torture. Its School of the Americas taught soon to be petit-thug dictators and their secret police forces how to torture, intimidate, and terrorize their own people. The hundreds, if not thousands of amateurs in the art of pain would graduate from the School of the Americas as masters, proliferating and spawning many more minions in their own countries, like fruit flies or bacteria, as they "disappeared" and tortured "Communists" in the name of "democracy" and "freedom".

But ultimately, the United States tortures on both sides of the colorline--perhaps this is one of the few spaces that has been radically democratic and inclusive?

America's torture machine, and the culture of cruelty that produced it, exist internationally and across the colorline.

Torture is sustained and legitimated by the banality of evil and a numbness to violence and harm done to others as a learned behavior--one taught by violent movies, video games, and conditioned by a neverending "War on Terror" where robots and drones kill from afar with ruthless efficiency.

Consequently, the "War on Terror" is a persistent "state of emergency" that retards and damages a democratic polity and public sphere.

The philosopher and social critic Slavoj Zizek details this process with his usual keen insight:

The paradox is that the state of emergency was the normal state, while ‘normal’ democratic freedom was the briefly enacted exception. This weird regime anticipated some clearly perceptible trends in our liberal-democratic societies in the aftermath of 11 September. Is today’s rhetoric not that of a global emergency in the fight against terrorism, legitimising more and more suspensions of legal and other rights?

The ominous aspect of John Ashcroft’s recent claim that ‘terrorists use America’s freedom as a weapon against us’ carries the obvious implication that we should limit our freedom in order to defend ourselves. Such statements from top American officials, especially Rumsfeld and Ashcroft, together with the explosive display of ‘American patriotism’ after 11 September, create the climate for what amounts to a state of emergency, with the occasion it supplies for a potential suspension of rule of law, and the state’s assertion of its sovereignty without ‘excessive’ legal constraints. America is, after all, as President Bush said immediately after 11 September, in a state of war.

The problem is that America is, precisely, not in a state of war, at least not in the conventional sense of the term (for the large majority, daily life goes on, and war remains the exclusive business of state agencies). With the distinction between a state of war and a state of peace thus effectively blurred, we are entering a time in which a state of peace can at the same time be a state of emergency.

The CIA report, and the persistent "state of emergency" that was used to legitimate the crimes detailed therein, exists in the same moral, ethical, and cognitive space, as those white people which are stuck in the White Gaze, and twisted by white racial paranoiac thinking, who can watch the video of Eric Garner being choked to death, and subsequently reason that he is responsible for his own death.

The banality of evil is shown by the spokespeople and defenders of the CIA who are more concerned that wicked (and ineffective) torture was "understandable" in the context of America's fear of terrorism, and that those personnel who committed such deeds will be "unfairly" persecuted.

Fear as the justification for cruelty and evil is a common defense. It is deployed by both the nation state and individuals. Darren Wilson, the police killers of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, and other white authorities retreat as a function of habit and training to this plea of "reasonable" fear (as processed through White racial logic) when they kill unarmed black and brown people.

It is empty and possesses little moral weight. Fear as a defense for wrong-doing is a surrender to cowardice and the most low thinking, practices that are more akin to that of impulsive instinct-driven beasts than human beings who imagine themselves as possessing the highest and most evolved capacity for reason.

Half of the American people have succumbed to the banality of evil and the cultural logic of torture.

A new poll by Pew Research details how:

Amid intense debate over the use of torture against suspected terrorists, public opinion about this issue remains fairly stable. Currently, nearly half say the use of torture under such circumstances is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.

Here, civil virtue and commonsense have been betrayed by fear mongering and manipulation: the American people are legitimating and rationalizing the very policies (directly through the physical act of torture; culturally through a numbing to poverty, human suffering, and an abandonment of a humane society) that have been and will en masse be turned against them in an era of Austerity and Inverted Totalitarianism.

There are many questions that cannot be asked within the limits of the approved American public discourse.

A basic definition of terrorism is the use of violence and fear to accomplish a political goal.

What if the language of "terrorist" and "torture" were applied to the behavior of the United States government and the American people both at home and abroad? Would the same justification for torture remain?

American exceptionalism--and nationalism more generally--can through arbitrary distinctions of territory, and the various colors of dye on a piece of fabric called a flag, make what is deemed to be wrong in one context legitimate and acceptable in another. The distorting of morality, reason, and ethics through nationalism makes the above questions verboten in American public discourse. This does not mean that such questions ought not to be asked or related scenarios explored.

White racial terrorism against people of color was and remains the norm in American life, society, and culture.

The Ku Klux Klan has been (and likely remains) the largest terrorist organization in the history of the United States.

For centuries, white slave patrollers intimidated, harassed, and killed both black human property as well as free people. American Apartheid, that period from the establishment of America as a slave society in the 17th century, through to the softening of legal white supremacy and the resulting colorblind and institutional systems of white racial advantage in the post civil rights era, use(d) violence--and the threat of violence--to intimidate and control the African-American community.

In the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama, America's police have continued with their historic mission of maintaining the colorline through committing acts of both interpersonal and institutional terrorism and violence against black and brown people.

The killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and those hundreds and thousands of others (so many dead, which given the lack of police accountability and transparency, may never be fully and publicly known) killed at least once every 28 hours in the United States serve the political goal of maintaining state custodial citizenship, providing human beings for the profits to made by the prison industrial complex, and satisfying the psychological wages of whiteness in the form of "law and order" and a sense of safety and security from black people in a hyper-segregated society.

Torture as public policy by America's police and prisons has been condemned by groups such as Amnesty International and the United Nations:

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.

The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.

Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”

Incidents of torture by the police against black and brown people are many.

In 1997, New York cops tortured Abner Louima, by anally raping him with a broomstick:

One officer, Justin A. Volpe, admitted in court in May 1999 that he had rammed a broken broomstick into Mr. Louima’s rectum and then thrust it in his face. He said he had mistakenly believed that Mr. Louima had punched him in the head during a street brawl outside a nightclub in Flatbush, but he acknowledged that he had also intended to humiliate the handcuffed immigrant. He left the force and was later sentenced to 30 years in prison. The commanders of the 70th Precinct were replaced within days of the assault. As the legal case wore on, Charles Schwarz, a former police officer, was sentenced in federal court in 2002 to five years in prison for perjury stemming from the torture case. A jury found that Mr. Schwarz had lied when he testified that he had not taken Mr. Louima to the station house bathroom where the assault took place.

Mr. Louima, who was born in Thomassin, Haiti, in 1966, and immigrated to New York in 1991, suffered a ruptured bladder and colon and spent two months in the hospital. The charges against him were dropped.

More than 100 black men in Chicago were tortured by police over the course of several decades in order to force them to give false confessions:

Men who say they were tortured by Chicago police into confessing to crimes they did not commit are renewing calls for compensation from the city.

They held a news conference Thursday to ask the City Council to pass an ordinance establishing a $20 million fund to torture victims who didn't qualify for settlements because of the statute of limitations.

More than 100 men have accused former police commander Jon Burge and officers under his command of shocking, suffocating and beating them into giving false confessions. Burge has never been criminally charged with torture.

But he is serving a 4 1/2 -year sentence for lying about the torture in a civil case, and was scheduled to leave prison on Thursday to serve the remainder of his time in a halfway house.

Michael Brown's body laying in the street for four hours; Eric Garner's plea for mercy that "I can't breath!"; the sodomizing of Abner Louima; the tortures that are day-to-day policy in America's prisons and jails; police brutality and militarization; the beatings, anal force feeding, sensory deprivation, drownings, and other cruelties detailed by the CIA torture report, are part of a broader culture of cruelty where human life is cheapened and debased.

Moreover, the culture of cruelty is international and domestic. On both terrains, it is far easier for the American state and its representatives to torture and render other violence against non-whites. White racial logic deems it acceptable to kill some nebulous brown Muslim "terrorist" Other in the same way that unarmed black men are transformed into "giant negroes" with superhuman strength who are demonically possessed while they supposedly attack white police officers.

If the Pew survey is correct--and half of the American people actually believe that "terrorists" from abroad should be tortured--then philosophical consistency should demand the same treatment for (white) American terrorists at home who harass, kill, or otherwise benefit from institutional and interpersonal white on black and brown violence by police and the state.

Such a suggestion may be met with shock or upset by those who are afraid to ask foundational questions about human decency and the Common Good outside of the comforting blinders of flag-waving nationalism and the panoply of myths which sustain a belief that America is "the best country on Earth".

Torture is wrong. It is unacceptable when done against "terrorists" or other "enemies of the state" abroad. Torture and terrorism are unacceptable when done by the United States government, police, or other representatives against its black and brown citizens and communities, as well as white folks too.

Moral consistency is the simplest of principles and behaviors; it is also very difficult for many Americans, especially those drunk on American exceptionalism and Right-wing authoritarianism, to comprehend and understand.

This is the failure of national character that made the horrors detailed in the CIA torture report possible.

All Americans of conscience should decry, condemn, and hold accountable the individuals, government behavior, and cruel policies detailed in the CIA torture report. Those same Americans of conscience should demand accountability from the police who kill unarmed and innocent black and brown people.

"Not in my name!" is a slogan and command for America's broken foreign policies to be corrected.

"Not in my name!" should be shouted (and acted upon) by all of our white brothers and sisters at the police thugs who are engaging in racial terrorism against the black community.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

A grand jury in St. Louis county Missouri, on November 24, 2014, failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black man, Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.

Now a grand jury has decided not to indict Staten Island police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the July 17, 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was selling loose cigarettes in violation of New York law.

After my initial outrage and disgust after hearing both these decisions, I am left with so many unanswered questions that I don't know where to begin, but begin I will.

Darren Wilson Case

There is sufficient reason to doubt Darren Wilson's assertion that he was in fear for his life in the presence of Michael Brown, Jr., but for the sake of argument, if Wilson was, in fact, in fear for his life, tell us why he felt compelled to aim approximately twenty bullets at Michael Brown, Jr. hitting him six times with two to the head? Why didn't he aim to slow Brown down, to injure him rather than to kill?

Why did Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis Country prosecutor not recuse himself from the case due to a conflict of interest since his own father, a police officer, was killed by a black man?

Why was the grand jury composed of only three black people compared with nine white people? Yes, I understand that demographically, white people comprise approximately 70 percent of St. Louis country, and they represent Darren Wilson's peers, but what about a grand jury composed more equally of Michael Brown, Jr.'s peers? Did his rights to a "jury of his peers" terminate with his killing?

Why does Ferguson, Missouri have a police force that includes only three black officers and the overwhelming majority composed of white officers in a town of 70 percent black residents?

Why did McCulloch decide to announce the grand jury decision not to indict at 8:00 p.m. after dark? What was his intent? And why did the city of Ferguson concentrate police officers and the National Guard primarily downtown rather than also in the neighborhoods to protect black-owned business from vandalism and destruction?

When a young man is killed over box of smokes, where a smoke screen seems to cover the many still unanswered questions, when a grand jury acquitted an officers on charges in secret proceedings, how can healing begin when the heart is ripped from a community? And how can justice be served when so many questions linger?

Daniel Pantaleo Case

In our nation, as we see the decriminalization of marijuana in state after state, as the federal government has increasingly lowered the penalties for accumulating small amounts of pot, why does New York State maintain a law criminalizing the sale of loose cigarettes? Didn't Eric Garner and others who do so simply conform to a basic tenet of Capitalism by selling legal merchandise at a profit? Take for example the restaurant industry, which buys large quantities of food stuffs, and sells smaller amounts at a profit. Should we pass laws against the food industry as well?

Why did it take a gaggle of officers to confront Eric Garner for simply selling cigarettes? Don't Staten Island officers have more important work to perform? Was Garner's so-called "crime" so serious that the force needed to divert such a large segment of its human resources to confront Garner?

How many more times in addition to 11 would it have taken Eric Garner to utter that he couldn't breathe for Pantaleo to ease his grip on Garner's neck and chest?

With all the increased calls for police officers to wear body cams while on duty to record their interactions with the public, will juries actually consider what they see on video screens in court rooms? This grand jury had the change to witness the actually events in the Pantaleo case, which was clearly recorded by an eye witness, and still, it refused to indict?

Pantaleo argued in front of the grand jury that he "had not intended" to kill Eric Garner. When will we as a nation understand that the burden of proof in many court cases must rest on the impact of an action and not merely on the intent of the person committing the action?

Since prosecutors work closely with police departments, and they depend on police evidence for details in the vast majority of their cases, does it really make sense for prosecutors to lead efforts in investigating the very officers with whom they count on in their work? Is this system itself not a conflict of interest?

Tiered (Teared) System of Justice

"[African Americans are] born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world - a world which yields [them] no true self-consciousness, but only lets [them] see [themselves] through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity." W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.

For DuBois, this "veil" concept can be taken three ways. First, it suggests the literal darker skin of black people, a physical delineation of separation from whiteness.Secondly, the veil suggests white people's deficiency or inability in seeing African Americans as "true" U.S.-Americans.And lastly, the veil refers to black peoples' difficulty under a racist system to see themselves apart from how white U.S.-Americans define and characterize them.

The veil hanging over African Americans, though, operates like a one-way mirror. They can easily see outward onto white America, and in this way, they develop a "double consciousness." Though not in the truest sense "bicultural," they acquire a realization of "otherness." For emotional and often physical survival, they must learn how to operate in two societies, one black and one white. White people have no such veil wrapped around them, and the mirror makes it difficult for them to perceive the realities of African Americans.

This relative inability of white people to see through the veil was reflected in a Pew Research Study of 1000 people conducted between August 14-17, 2014. It found profound racial divisions between African American and white people on attitudes surrounding the police killing of Michael Brown Jr.

Among the study's finding, fully 80 percent of African Americans compared to 39 percent of white people stated that the fatal shooting "raises important issues about race." Conversely, 47 percent of white people versus 18 percent of African Americans believe that "race is getting more attention than it deserves." In addition, 65 percent of African American and only 33 percent of white people believe the police response went "too far" in the aftermath of the incident.

Blauner wrote earlier of a United States in which there exists "two languages of race," one spoken by black people (and by implication, other people of color), the other by white people. By "language," he refers to a system of meaning attached to social reality, in this instance a "racial language" reflecting a view of the world. This echoes the conclusions of the Kerner Commission report released in 1968 in its study of urban unrest. It stated, in part, that the United States was moving toward two separate societies: one white and one black (though the report left it uncertain where other communities of color fit into this equation).

Can we as a society cut through the vail and begin to know and understand those different from ourselves, to have the ability to walk in the shoes of another, to break down these "us" versus "them" notions that separate? First, we as white people must dismantle the denial systems that prevent many of us grasping our social privileges and the realities of "race" in U.S.-America.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

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Holiday bells are silent in the homes of America’s struggling working poor, even with gasoline

prices at their lowest levels in years.

These are people derided as moochers because their starvation wages force them to accept food

stamps to feed their children.

On the other side of town, inside gated communities where guards demand photo ID even from

Santa, CEOs’ Christmas plums are super-sugared with record-breaking corporate profits.

These are people somehow not derided as moochers, even though their million-dollar pay

packages are propped up by tax breaks.

The parable of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” springs to mind as Wall Street banks and

law firms hand out six- and seven-figure year end bonuses while Walmart and fast food workers

protest wages so low that their holiday meals are food pantry dregs. It is CEOs, not the working

poor, who deserve public scorn for their dependence on government handouts.

The Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies issued a report last

month that details the mooching of the nation’s top corporations and CEOs. It’s called “Fleecing

Uncle Sam.” The findings are pretty galling.

Of American’s 100 top-paid CEOs, 29 worked schemes that enabled them to collect more in

compensation than their corporations paid in income taxes. The average pay for these 29: $32

million. For one year. And corporations mangle the tax code to deduct that too.

Though their corporations reported combined pre-tax profits of $24 billion, they wrangled $238

million in tax refunds out of the federal government. That’s refunds – the government gave

money to highly profitable corporations.

That’s an effective tax rate of negative 1 percent.

That means middle class taxpayers helped cover the cost of million-dollar pay packages for

CEOs. Middle class taxpayers, whose median family income is $51,324 and whose federal income taxes are withdrawn directly from their checks before they see a cent of pay, support

CEOs who pull down $32 million a year.

That qualifies CEOs as first-class fleecers!

Their corporations pay nothing for essential government services that middle class taxpayers

provide. That includes patent protection, the Commerce Department’s sanctions against foreign

trade rule violations, and federal court dispute resolution.

Some corporations haven’t developed schemes enabling them to tax the federal government.

Instead, they pay, but not at that 35 percent rate they’re always whining about. Between 2008

and 2012, the average large corporation, according to Fleecing Uncle Sam, paid just 19.4

percent.

Individuals earning $50,000 a year pay 25 percent. Clearly, corporations are not paying a fair

share at 19 percent.

There’s this wacky theory that if governments excuse corporations from paying their share, then

they’ll expand and create jobs. It’s wacky because it’s fiction. Highly profitable corporations

aren’t expanding and creating jobs; they’re buying back their own stock.

A study by University of Massachusetts professor William Lazonick, president of the AcademicIndustry

Research Network, showed that between 2003 and 2012, S&P 500 corporations used 54

percent of their earnings – $2.4 trillion – to buy their own stock.

This isn’t creating jobs. This isn’t investing in a corporation’s future. This is adding to CEO

wealth. It works like this: Stock buybacks push up stock prices. Forty-two percent of

compensation for S&P 500 CEOs comes from stock options. Thus, as Lazonick points out, stock

increases equal CEO pay raises.

Corporations don’t expand just because untaxed profits are sitting around anyway. They expand

to meet demand. And corporate practices have deflated demand.

Part of the problem is that CEOs and top executives are taking an increasing portion while doling

out less to workers. As the New York Times reported in January, wages have fallen to a record

low as a share of gross domestic product, dropping to 43.5 percent last year. It was 50 percent in

1975. The decline means less demand.

But there’s more. Just last week, the New York Times noted two other trends that contribute to

weak demand. One is wage theft. The U.S. Department of Labor found that more than 300,000

workers in New York and California are victims of minimum wage violations each month,

costing them between $20 million and $29 million each week. If corporations didn’t cheat them

out of those earnings, their spending would generate greater demand. The other trend is insecure income. Millions of Americans are unsure week to week how much

money will be coming into their households. This occurs for many reasons, but among the most

prominent is the refusal of employers to provide workers with steady weekly hours and practices

like sending workers home when retail or restaurant traffic is light. A survey by the Federal

Reserve suggests the problem of unreliable income may have worsened as Wall Street has

strengthened. Families that can’t pay their bills reduce demand.

Instead of giving workers raises and steady hours, corporations have rewarded only those at the

top. The Fleecing Uncle Sam study found that companies that paid their CEOs more than they

paid in federal income taxes gave those CEOs fat raises. The average pay of these CEOs rose

from $16.7 million in 2010 to $32 million in 2013.

They’ve got trillions for CEOs and stock buy-backs, but nothing for workers or the federal

government.

This isn’t an accident. It’s not some invisible hand of the market. It’s CEOs freeloading.

No ghosts are going to show up to convert these Scrooges into humans. Instead, the first step in

that process is recognizing that the moochers are the CEOs, not the hapless food stamp recipients

who desperately want steady, full-time, decently-paid work. The second step is to demand that

corporations pay their fair share of taxes and provide steady, full-time, decently-paid work.

Holiday bells are silent in the homes of America’s struggling working poor, even with gasoline

prices at their lowest levels in years.

These are people derided as moochers because their starvation wages force them to accept food

stamps to feed their children.

On the other side of town, inside gated communities where guards demand photo ID even from

Santa, CEOs’ Christmas plums are super-sugared with record-breaking corporate profits.

These are people somehow not derided as moochers, even though their million-dollar pay

packages are propped up by tax breaks.

The parable of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” springs to mind as Wall Street banks and

law firms hand out six- and seven-figure year end bonuses while Walmart and fast food workers

protest wages so low that their holiday meals are food pantry dregs. It is CEOs, not the working

poor, who deserve public scorn for their dependence on government handouts.

The Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies issued a report last

month that details the mooching of the nation’s top corporations and CEOs. It’s called “Fleecing

Uncle Sam.” The findings are pretty galling.

Of American’s 100 top-paid CEOs, 29 worked schemes that enabled them to collect more in

compensation than their corporations paid in income taxes. The average pay for these 29: $32

million. For one year. And corporations mangle tax the code to deduct that too.

Though their corporations reported combined pre-tax profits of $24 billion, they wrangled $238

million in tax refunds out of the federal government. That’s refunds – the government gave

money to highly profitable corporations.

That’s an effective tax rate of negative 1 percent.

That means middle class taxpayers helped cover the cost of million-dollar pay packages for

CEOs. Middle class taxpayers, whose median family income is $51,324 and whose federal income taxes are withdrawn directly from their checks before they see a cent of pay, support

CEOs who pull down $32 million a year.

That qualifies CEOs as first-class fleecers!

Their corporations pay nothing for essential government services that middle class taxpayers

provide. That includes patent protection, the Commerce Department’s sanctions against foreign

trade rule violations, and federal court dispute resolution.

Some corporations haven’t developed schemes enabling them to tax the federal government.

Instead, they pay, but not at that 35 percent rate they’re always whining about. Between 2008

and 2012, the average large corporation, according to Fleecing Uncle Sam, paid just 19.4

percent.

Individuals earning $50,000 a year pay 25 percent. Clearly, corporations are not paying a fair

share at 19 percent.

There’s this wacky theory that if governments excuse corporations from paying their share, then

they’ll expand and create jobs. It’s wacky because it’s fiction. Highly profitable corporations

aren’t expanding and creating jobs; they’re buying back their own stock.

A study by University of Massachusetts professor William Lazonick, president of the AcademicIndustry

Research Network, showed that between 2003 and 2012, S&P 500 corporations used 54

percent of their earnings – $2.4 trillion – to buy their own stock.

This isn’t creating jobs. This isn’t investing in a corporation’s future. This is adding to CEO

wealth. It works like this: Stock buybacks push up stock prices. Forty-two percent of

compensation for S&P 500 CEOs comes from stock options. Thus, as Lazonick points out, stock

increases equal CEO pay raises.

Corporations don’t expand just because untaxed profits are sitting around anyway. They expand

to meet demand. And corporate practices have deflated demand.

Part of the problem is that CEOs and top executives are taking an increasing portion while doling

out less to workers. As the New York Times reported in January, wages have fallen to a record

low as a share of gross domestic product, dropping to 43.5 percent last year. It was 50 percent in

1975. The decline means less demand.

But there’s more. Just last week, the New York Times noted two other trends that contribute to

weak demand. One is wage theft. The U.S. Department of Labor found that more than 300,000

workers in New York and California are victims of minimum wage violations each month,

costing them between $20 million and $29 million each week. If corporations didn’t cheat them

out of those earnings, their spending would generate greater demand. The other trend is insecure income. Millions of Americans are unsure week to week how much

money will be coming into their households. This occurs for many reasons, but among the most

prominent is the refusal of employers to provide workers with steady weekly hours and practices

like sending workers home when retail or restaurant traffic is light. A survey by the Federal

Reserve suggests the problem of unreliable income may have worsened as Wall Street has

strengthened. Families that can’t pay their bills reduce demand.

Instead of giving workers raises and steady hours, corporations have rewarded only those at the

top. The Fleecing Uncle Sam study found that companies that paid their CEOs more than they

paid in federal income taxes gave those CEOs fat raises. The average pay of these CEOs rose

from $16.7 million in 2010 to $32 million in 2013.

They’ve got trillions for CEOs and stock buy-backs, but nothing for workers or the federal

government.

This isn’t an accident. It’s not some invisible hand of the market. It’s CEOs freeloading.

No ghosts are going to show up to convert these Scrooges into humans. Instead, the first step in

that process is recognizing that the moochers are the CEOs, not the hapless food stamp recipients

who desperately want steady, full-time, decently-paid work. The second step is to demand that

corporations pay their fair share of taxes and provide steady, full-time, decently-paid work.

Steve Anderson, the pastor of Arizona’s Faithful Word Baptist Church, has caused shock and revulsion for his recent claim that the AIDS crisis would end if gays were executed. However through it all, folks are missing a point that only us wonky individuals would bring up.

In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed Anderson’s church as an anti-gay hate group along with several other organizations. Of course much of the attention following this announcement had to do with the other groups SPLC listed, particularly the Family Research Council and the American Family Association.

In fact, it caused such a stir that FRC began a campaign entitled Start Debating, Stop Hating. Through this campaign, the group claimed that SPLC was trying to ‘silence’ Christian groups:

The surest sign one is losing a debate is to resort to character assassination. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal fundraising machine whose tactics have been condemned by observers across the political spectrum, is doing just that.

The group, which was once known for combating racial bigotry, is now attacking several groups that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman. How does the SPLC attack? By labeling its opponents “hate groups.” No discussion. No consideration of the issues. No engagement. No debate!

FRC did not differentiate between itself and other organizations named as anti-gay hate groups. However the organization did run a full page ad in Politico. According to Talking Points Memo, several Republican leaders signed on to this ad:

The ad is undersigned by a number of leading Republican politicians, social conservative and mainstream alike: House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Sen, Jim DeMint (R-SC), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and even Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

I should also point out that SPLC received considerable criticism from many circles for supposedly attacking “Christian groups.”

So what’s the point with me bringing all of this up? Certainly not to imply that FRC believes that gays should be executed.  However, it should be noted that FRC is tacitly silent about Anderson and his church right now, both of which the organization defended in 2010, as are the Republican leaders who supported FRC’s campaign back then.

And it should also be noted that Anderson’s recent homophobic spew only proves SPLC’s point about anti-gay hate groups who hide their vindictive nature behind “Judeo-Christian” beliefs. And also that SPLC was not trying to “silence Christians.”

I think certain parties owe SPLC a huge apology right now.

The Long Black Friday made sense a week ago in Ferguson, not just to young people but, surprisingly, to an older coalition of justice workers and Christians ministers who called for the cessation of shopping throughout the long Thanksgiving weekend.  This is scandalous to the corporations. “Black Friday” is this weekend that establishes the retail profits for the year, as in, the company “Goes into the black.”  But politically this is a savvy and long overdue move.  The proposal confronts a decades-long drift toward a trading in of shopping for freedom.

Now we see die-ins in Macy’s in New York after the Eric Garner grand jury decision. Disruptions of the hypnotized state of holiday browsing continue in Walmarts and Targets throughout the country. These decisions to concentrate on big retail happen instinctively.  They are crowd-sourced.  People know that the privatizing of our commons is a key to what has gone wrong in our country.  Congress is a corrupted commons.  Shopping over-runs our local park.

Our nation was founded with surging anger that filled the streets and squares, the places that are owned by all of us.  The project of neo-liberalism in recent decades pulls funds from the government agencies that maintenance such places and then turns these stages for celebration and sorrow, volunteered entertainment, mixing of strangers in the urban tradition – over to the control of local businesses, socialite ladies, wealthy “conservancies.” 

Gradually the old sites for gatherings of freedom-fighters, like Union Square in New York, have been smothered with police and big retail.  Union Square, the most important 1stAmendment site for a series of social movements that have shaped American life – from the first Labor Day parade to the huge peace marches after 9/11 – is shut-down as a public space.  It is run now by a group of 50 rich and super-rich in a glorified “Business Improvement District” or BID, with a private police force that I have seen boss around the real police.

The commons was destroyed and we were steered into the money-making environments of malls and chain stores.  In many cities, corporate retail is the only place where people can meet.  It is the “center of town.”  Once there, we are bombarded with the concentrated fire-power of corporate marketing.  Instead of trees and wrought iron and the sculpted stone of old buildings -  we suffer the seductions of super-models 50 feet tall sporting jewelry and underwear. 

The police and courts went along with this shift to private property.  Shopping rose to a religio-economic status above all else.  Our prosperity and freedom depended on it, according to a series of presidents from Ronald Reagon to Bill Clinton and finally to George Bush’s famous statement after 9/11:  “If you love your country you go out shopping.” 

Expressive politics has become impossible.   Either we are burdened with endless permits for gathering and amplified sound or we proceed in the fear that to exercise our basic freedoms puts us at risk of arrest.  In most cities it has become routine that large numbers of police rush to any gathering of citizens of any kind.  Respect for the police has fallen off in parallel to the disgust we have for politicians, as both professions seem to work for the rich and the corporations.  The United States Constitution does not seem to be their script.  The public’s freedom is no longer the goal.  The public is something to manage, to push into de-politicized consumption. 

The vacuum in public space has left police without any countervailing force.  The rough democracy of speeches and music, the speaker’s corners, were always important for civic pride.  There needs to be a balance of power with the police, or they will rule the streets absolutely.  Unaware of the rights or feelings of their constituents, police and courts now have the power to decree a citizen’s death, because of what can only be described as their cultural isolation from the lives of the people that they swear to protect.

It makes sense to take the corporations up on their pretend public space.  Force them to take the public role they are incapable of.  Then re-open again our own commons, which waits with its 1st Amendment protections.  Public space must be public again.  The police who walk that beat must work for all the people.