Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 7: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

The Erickson Report, Page 7: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

Turning to the Outrages, we have first the fact that the Tweetie-pie administration has announced plans to resume executing federal prisoners, ending a 16-year moratorium on the practice.

Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five inmates on death row, bringing back the grim reaper with a vengeance, as the government has carried out just three executions since the federal death penalty statute was expanded in 1994 and the last of those was in 2003.

The bloodlust flies in the face of the trend in the nation as a whole. There were just 25 executions in the whole country in all of 2018, a quarter of the number of 20 years earlier.

New Hampshire abolished the death penalty in May, making it the 21st state to do so. In some of the other states where it remains the law, the death penalty is effectively frozen, including by governor-issued moratoriums in California and Pennsylvania and a court order in North Carolina, and in yet others the penalty simply isn't invoked.

Popular support for capital punishment is also down, dropping from around 80% in the mid-1990s when fear of crime and actual crime rates were much higher to a bare majority of 54% now, according to the Pew Research Center.

Amnesty International called the decision to resume sanctioned murder "outrageous" and "the latest indication of this administration’s disdain for human rights."

Which I would say is the least you can call it. The fact is, despite the lack of any evidence that the death penalty reduces the murder rate, despite the demonstrated racist bias in imposition of the death penalty, despite the cold reality of the execution of innocent people, despite dropping crime and dropping support, this remnant of barbarity persists. It is and will remain a moral outrage.


This will just be a quick note because I'm out of time and this is something I will definitely be talking more about soon.

On August 2, the US formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

We now face the prospect of a new nuclear arms race.

The killing of the pact comes just three days before the 56th anniversary of the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, one of the earliest treaties on nuclear weapons, that one atmospheric testing, and just four days before the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The Erickson Report, Page 6: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

The Erickson Report, Page 6: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Ah, our regular feature and a crowd favorite, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages.

Starting as we usually do with the Clowns, our first example is poor, beleagured Susan Collins. Her approval rating among her constituents in Maine has plummeted from the sky-high 78% at one point in 2015 to being underwater now: 45% approval and 48% disapproval, a fact which which she blames on "unceasing attacks by dark money groups" but does not, apparently, see any connection to having sold her soul to Tweetie-pie, particularly with her vote to put Bret Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court after her risible claim she was sure, oh so sure, that he will never ever nohow how can you even suggest the idea that he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Susan Collins
Making her even more of a clown is the fact that she has already benefitted from dark money and that of the $2 million she raise last quarter for her re-election, less than $100,000 came from people in Maine.


Our loser Clown of the week is Rep. John Ratcliffe, who auditioned for the post of Director of National Intelligence by berating Robert Mueller with the totally false claim that he didn’t follow the special counsel regulations.

Of course, in the wake of his act his name shot to the top of Tweetie-pie's list, and His High Orangeness announced on July 28 that he was going to nominate Ratcliffe only to change his mind just five days later after even Senate GOPpers couldn't stomach the idea of this thoroughly unqualified prat.

John Ratcliffe
With the withdrawal of the nomination, this may seem borderline irrelevant now but I still want to take the opportunity to point and laugh.


Next up, we have a candidate for the Least Self-Aware Award.

William Perry Pendley, a right-wing lawyer and commentator, is the new head of the Bureau of Land Management. He has argued that climate science isn’t real, that environmentalists want to “destroy” civilization, that diversity is killing people, and that the best thing for managing public lands is for the feds to sell off more of it.

He also said in a 2018 interview that a real problem in government is that federal employees aren’t held “personally liable” or “personally responsible for the harm that they do” regarding federal land management.

William Perry Pendley
He better hope that his own standards don't apply to him. Which of course they won't, but we can dream.


Finally, I know I said I wasn't going to mention El Paso or Dayton but I came across this as I was preparing the show and it is just so jaw-dropping stupid that I had to include it.

Mike Huckleberryhound insists that there is only one thing that can put a stop to mass shootings.

A ban on guns? Don't be absurd.
A ban on assault or military type weapons, then? Forget it.
Mike Huckabee
Universal background checks? A ban on large-capacity magazines? Nope and nope.

Nope, not even better mental health programs or a ban on video games. The only thing that will help is - wait for it -

thoughts and prayers.

No joke. That's what he said in so many words, adding that until, quoting now, "kids are brought up once again to believe that we are all made in the image of God, that life is sacred and superficial differences like skin color are meaningless” - don't know when thinks kids in this country were brought up that way but I want some of what he's been smoking - anyway, until we are, um, again he said all pacifists and totally nonracist, until then, quoting again, "passing more laws is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Shorter Mike Huckleberryhound: I don't give a damn and stop bothering me

The Erickson Report. Page 5: A Longer Look at BDS and Israel

The Erickson Report. Page 5: A Longer Look at BDS and Israel

It's time for us to take A Longer Look.

Because the right to engage in peaceful political boycotts is under active attack in the US.

Well, to be precise, it's under active attack if the target of a peaceful political boycott is Israel.

Twenty-seven states covering more that 250 million people have laws that in some way punish people or businesses or both for daring to engage in or support any sort of economic boycott of Israel, even if that boycott is limited to the Occupied Territories, which Israel holds and controls in clear violation of international law and UN resolution.

These US laws are part of a nationwide assault on the Boycott-Divest-Sanction - or BDS - Movement, the goal of which is to use economic pressure to force Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. The attacks on the movement are mostly based on taking various clearly anti-Semitic statements by one founder of the movement and projecting those attitudes wholesale onto every person, every business, and every group supporting the boycott, purposely forgetting that BDS is a movement, not an organization taking orders from the top down.

Congress has played its part in the assault as well: Last year, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, sponsored by two Rs and two Ds, tried to flat-out make it a crime to boycott Israel. It failed, but there is talk of it being reintroduced this year.

This session has seen Senate passage of the Combat BDS Act, which encourages states to create laws that three federal courts have now blocked as unconstitutional. In late July, the House easily passed H. Res 24, which condemned BDS, claiming the movement "promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation." Among those voting "aye" were progressive heroes Ro Khanna and Ayanna Pressley, who were described by some on Twitter as "progressive - except for the issue of Israel and Palestine."

By the way, I'll note, because it's important that we do, the exact same description of BDS in that resolution could have been applied to the anti-apartheid movement aimed at South Africa as well as any number of other political boycotts - remember the boycott of North Carolina over its anti-transgender so-called "bathroom bill?" Couldn't that have been called "collective guilt?" The boycott was of the state, not of the particular legislators who voted for the bill. Couldn't that have been called "mass punishment?" The economic impact by definition was spread across the whole state's economy. Should that have been condemned by the House of Representatives?

Happily there is some pushback against this; Representatives Ilhan Omar, John Lewis, and Rashida Tlaib hsve introduced a resolution reaffirming the First Amendment right to participate in political boycotts as grounded in America’s history. Lewis's support is particularly important because he opposes BDS but he opposes restrictions on our Constitutional rights even more. Pressley, for her part, tried to defend her vote to condemn BDS by pointing to her support for this resolution, but that shows either low-grade CYA or a fundamental ignorance of the issues at hand.

Why is something like BDS needed? Two recent reasons.

The first is in Gaza. According to the conservative Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post, "thousands of Gazans protest along the security fence on a weekly basis ... calling for an end of the 12-year-long Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip." The "security fence"  is a barrier that Israel built to keep those living in Gaza penned in.

Israel has responded to the protests violently. According to a UN report, between March 30 2018, when the series of demonstrations started and the end of the year, Israeli snipers killed 180 unarmed Palestinian protesters and wounded more 6100 others. "The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities," the report said.

Now, to prove how decent and moral they are, Israeli officials have said that snipers are going to aim at the ankles of protesters rather than shooting them anywhere on the body, because of the unfortunate tendency of the previous policy to kill people.

But as noted by Jon Heller, an associate professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam,
Israel’s “most moral” IDF admits sniping legs has an unfortunate tendency to kill, so it instructs its snipers to shoot at ankles. Sniping innocent protesters, however, is still fine.
The Israeli civil rights organization B'Tselem declared that the change in policy
in no way suggests that the military attaches great value to human life. On the contrary, it shows that the military consciously chose not to regard those standing on the other side of the fence as humans.
For our second recent reason, we move from Gaza, which has rightly called the "largest open air prison in the world," to Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, on July 22 Israeli forces demolished scores of homes in Sur Baher, a Palestinian village that straddles East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Parts of Sur Baher lie inside the municipal boundary of East Jerusalem, Israeli-occupied and still a point of contention, and parts lie outside the apartheid wall that Israel has built between itself and the West Bank. However, some parts of the village lie in between: outside the boundary of Jerusalem but still on the Israeli side of the barrier, which there, as in several other places, wrongfully intrudes into the West Bank. Because it outside the boundary of Jerusalem, the area is ostensibly under control of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel doesn't care. It declared those houses "illegal" because they didn't have Israeli building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to get and ignoring that the area is supposed to be under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, not Israel. It also declared them a "security risk" because of their proximity to the fence - a risk, never forget, that Israel created by building the damn fence - and then used those excuses to demolish the homes and drive out the residents.

The move was denounced by Amnesty International, calling it "part of a systematic pattern by the Israeli authorities to forcibly displace Palestinians in the occupied territories," actions which which "amount to war crimes."

In joint statement, three key officials of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs declared that "Israel's policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law."

The European Union issued a statement opposing the operation, which said in part that
Israel's settlement policy, including actions taken in that context, such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions, and confiscations of homes, is illegal under international law.
So here's the deal: If you think that shooting nonviolent protesters in the world's largest outdoor prison, if you think an on-going policy that "amounts to war crimes," is in violation of international law, and amounts to at least a type of ethnic cleansing, if you think that is not a valid basis for an economic boycott, especially one against a nation whose leader, Benjamin Netan-yo-yo, has proven himself a liar and a hypocrite with regard to the two-state solution in which our own leaders claim to believe so fervently, if you think that is not sufficient cause for a nonviolent economic boycott, then I would challenge you to come up with a program for justice in the Middle East that does not involve suppression of Constitutional rights here and passive submission by Palestinians, dreamy wishful thinking, blind trust in those who have proven their bad faith, or willful blindness and probably all three there.

Just know that if you try, you will fail.

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Following Up on school lunches

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Following Up on school lunches

I want to Follow Up on something I raised briefly last time, when I expressed my outrage over a school district in Florida that threatened parents who hadn't paid for their children's school lunches with having those children removed to foster care.

But the real outrage, I said then, was that any family should ever be in the position of not being able to afford food for their children.

It develops that that, however, is not an outrage to the administration of Tweetie-pie.

For two decades, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - still commonly called by its original name of Food Stamps - has had rules which allow states to raise limits on eligibility, making it easier for families with high housing or child care costs, as well as those with some savings and other assets, to still quality. Such loosened limits are now in effect to some degree in some form in 40 states, allowing them to better support low-income working families, promote asset-building among those households, and improve state administration while lowering administrative costs.

Now, the gang of misanthropes swearing fealty to His High Orangeness want to dump those rules, denying states the ability to address local conditions.

“Too often, states have misused this flexibility,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, forgetting, it seems, that "flexibility for states" is a traditional mantra for right-wingers whenever they think states will be harder on poor people than a related federal program. He considers families not being forced to choose among rent, health care, and food to be an "abuse."

The White House gangsters estimated that 3.1 million people would lose access to Food Stamps under their proposal, which is evil enough - but it turns out that they left something out, which brings us back directly to school lunches: The plan would potentially strip around 500,000 kids of free school lunches.

See, children automatically get free school lunch if their families receive Food Stamps, a policy that reduces paperwork and thus reduces both costs and the risks of bureaucratic screw-ups. The proposed change would eliminate that automatic eligibility, forcing every single family to apply individually under tightened standards.

For some reason, the death-eaters in the White House never mentioned that fact in their formal release of the proposed rule changes. Maybe they thought announcing an intention to deny school meals to a half-million poor kids was an image too bad even for them to present.

But frankly, I doubt it: Nothing seems beneath them.

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Heroes and Villains

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Heroes and Villains

Alright, now for one of our occasional features, called Heroes and Villains

You may have heard about the massive protests in Moscow demanding free and fair elections in gthe wake of opposition candidates being barred from running in the Moscow city council elections.

The police response, to what should be no one's surprise, has been brutal. Hundreds arrested this past weekend, 1000 the weekend before, with many reported beaten, as crowds called out "We are unarmed," and "Our blood is on your hands."

In the midst of the state violence, 17-year-old Olga Misik sat down on the ground in her bulletproof vest in front of Putin's armed goons and read aloud the Russian Constitution, including Article 31 affirming the right to peaceful political assembly, creating a quiet but potent symbol of peaceful defiance.

Olga Misik
In what again should have been a surprise to no one, Misik was allowed to leave the demonstration only to be arrested later when there were no witnesses. She was held overnight and beaten before being charged with "attending a public event [held] without filing a notice" and fomenting "mass unrest."

For being a symbol of courageous nonviolent defiance that has been compared to the famous image of a single Chinese man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square, Olga Misik is a hero.

As for our villain, well, of course it's Vlad Ptooie. You thought someone else?

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Five Things Noted in Passing

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Five Things Noted in Passing

Next up comes Five Things Noted in Passing, devoted to mentioning at least briefly a few of the many, many pieces of news that can't be included in a half-hour show.

Number One: Emmet Till was a 14 year-old boy from Chicago visiting family in Money, Mississippi in August of 1955, where he allegedly flirted with a white woman cashier at a country store.

Four days later, the woman's husband and brother went to the home where Till was staying, kidnapped him, stripped him, beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and threw his body, tied to a 75-pound cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the the Tallahatchie River.

Emmett Till
His body was found four days later. His murderers were tried for the crime - and were acquitted in under two hours.

Since 2007, there have been several memorial signs near the site of the murder. The signs have been repeatedly vandalized - but for some reason a recent example caused extensive outrage: Three University of Mississippi students posed by one bullet-pocked sign bearing guns and grins.

The result is a new sign, 500 pounds, steel-reinforced, bulletproof, and protected by security.

Which is apparently what it takes, today, to protect a memorial to a black child murdered and mutilated by bigots 64 years ago.


Number Two: To prove resistance can be joyful, Ronald Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San José State University, have installed three pink seesaws along the steel border fence on the outskirts of El Paso in Texas and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

The seesaws were slid through the fence so that the two ends were in the two different countries, making the wall, the professors said, a literal fulcrum of US-Mexico relations.


Number Three: The Polar Star is a heavy icebreaker, designed to make its way through Antarctic Sea ice, which can be over 20 feet thick. Its primary job is clearing a path for resupply of the McMurdo research station as part of Deep Freeze, a multi-service operation to support the US Antarctic Program, which is led by the National Science Foundation.

It is the US's only heavy icebreaker and it was launched in 1976 - 43 years ago. Every time it makes the trip, necessary to support the research being done at McMurdo, which can be done nowhere else in the world, things break down, pipes leak, equipment stops working. The boat spends its entire time in homeport in a struggle to be ready for the next time. The Coast Guard and Navy are supposedly cooperating on plans for new icebreakers, but for now every year there is the risk that the researchers at McMurdo could find themselves without supplies.


Number Four: The case of Parvez Manzoor Khan is before a US magistrate in Jacksonville, Florida. I won't try to go through the details of the case, which gets complex, but I wanted to mention it because of its potential impact: The Justice Department is trying to strip Khan of his citizenship, which he obtained in 2006, on the grounds that in his application he failed to disclose aspects of his immigration history.

Parvez Manzoor Khan
However, it develops that even if he had disclosed those details, it would not have prevented him from becoming a citizen. Nonetheless, the Injustice Dept. is pressing the case while admitting that if it's successful, there is no guarantee that ICE would not renew attempts to deport him to Pakistan.

The even important, the broader, thing is that if Khan loses his citizenship, the DOJ has already made it clear that it intends to pursue similar cases against other naturalized citizens.

I wonder if any of them will be from Norway.


And Number Five: A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine compared state-by-state rates of gun ownership with rates of gun homicide from 1990 through 2016.

The study found that the rate of domestic-violence-related firearm homicide was 65% higher in states with the highest rate of gun ownership than in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Which I supposed should be filed under the heading of "And this is news how?"

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Opening thoughts

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Opening thoughts

I want to start this show by telling you that I am not going to talk about El Paso. I am not going to talk about Dayton.

Except to say this: I don't want to hear a thing, not one single damn thing, about the "thoughts and prayers" of the right-wing bozos, bigots, hypocrites, liars, and twits lamely trying to act like they give a damn about the carnage for which they, yes, are responsible because of their opposition to action.

Mick Mulvaney - Major Toht
I was also going to call them dipwads but I didn't because that implies they're stupid and they're not, they're not stupid, they know exactly what they're doing. They just don't have enough humanity or conscience to care - as right on schedule, as reliable as the Sun rising in the morning, they blame mass shootings on things like video games, as Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did, with Patrick dragging in old favorites bullying on social media and lack of school prayer for good measure, or insist it's all a "mental health" issue, as was done by Texas governor Greg Abbott, Tweetie-pie himself, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, otherwise known as Major Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark - while of course Faux News intones that "now is not the time" to talk about gun violence.

They know what they are doing. It's just that they are eager, they are intent on, they are desperate to, talk about something, anything, anything other than the damn guns.

But I'm not going to talk about that. Instead I'm going to refer you to something I did a little over a year ago: a special half-hour report on guns. The website displayed is a page from my website. Go there and you will see two posts, one the video version of that report and the other the text version, including links to the sources used. I will let that, for now, be my statement. 

The Erickson Report for August 7 to 20

The Erickson Report for August 7 to 20

This week:

- Keep your "thoughts and prayers."

- Five Things Noted in Passing

- Heroes and Villains: Olga Misik and Vladimir Putin

- Following Up: school lunches

- A Longer Look: BDS and Israel

- Two Weeks of Stupid [the Clowns]

- Two Weeks of Stupid [the Outrages]

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Final thoughts

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Final thoughts

[This is a slightly cleaned up transcript of the last few minutes of the show. If it seems a bit disjointed, forgive me: It was done ad-lib, based on my memory of a couple of things I'd read recently. The biggest change is that at the time I couldn't remember the name of the Great Smokey Mountains National Forest.]

Last for this show, there is something I've wanted to talk about. It's not really political - or at least it's as non-political as we usually get around here. But it's something I've been thinking about recently.

Last week, it was last week, I was outside, looking up in the dark at some trees and bushes and whatnot and I saw something and I looked again and oh my gosh -

It's a lightning bug.

And I thought "My gosh, I can't remember the last time I saw a lightning bug."

When I was a kid, they seemed to be everywhere. It was a ritual of spring and early summer to go out and catch some in a jar and find them dead the next morning and no, punching holes in the lid did not help. I did that.

And now, you just don't see them, you just don't see them any more.

And I have to tell you, it's not your imagination. They are disappearing. Lightning bugs - or fireflies, if you prefer but they called them lightning bugs where I grew up - are disappearing. There are 2000 species of lightning bugs that have been in decline for several years, a couple of decades in fact. They are disappearing. It's not your imagination.

In fact, Great Smokey Mountains National Forest in Tennessee has people coming in the spring specifically because of the lightning bugs. Specifically because they are still there in good numbers and you can still see them - it's now become a tourist attraction to be able to see lightning bugs.

I remember one time I was living in a town, we were living on a corner and across from us there was an empty field and to the left was a little marshy area, a little wetlands. A little stream running through it, just tall grasses and reeds and it was tick hell in the spring but I remember one evening being in the yard and looking over and seeing in and above those marsh grasses hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lightning bugs.

Now, you have to understand that at the time I made my living as a professional photographer, a still photographer. That's what I did. And I thought to myself that I could not take a picture that would do justice to this. The lights flickered and swirled and danced and streaked. There was no way a still photograph could do justice to what I saw. I have seen attempts, but there is no way that a still photo could reproduce that experience.

You're not imagining it: They are disappearing. Nobody actually knows why. Nobody actually knows why. But the two biggest, most common notions are loss of habitat - the more we build, the more we pave, the more we drain, the fewer places they have to live.

And the other thing is light pollution. The more we we light up the night, the more lights - See, the thing is, and you probably know this, those flashes are used to find and attract mates. It's part of reproduction. The more lights there are, the harder it is for the lightning bugs to see the other lightning bugs, to see the flashes. And they're also confusing.

We, we humans, we keep forgetting, we keep imagining that we are so small and the world is so big, how can we be affecting things? But the fact is that not by doing anything special, not by consciously doing it, not by trying to manipulate the natural world, just by living our lives, we humans, especially we advanced industrialized humans, are changing the natural world around us.

And even if it turns out that lightning bugs, there's no connection, that they could disappear without any significant impact on any other species, even if that was true, it still is a loss, a loss that we have brought on ourselves.

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

Turning to our Outrages, here's an outrage you probably didn't even know was one: so-called "chronic nuisance" laws.

Towns and cities across the country are passing local laws that punish landlords and tenants when crimes occur on a property.

Approximately 2,000 municipalities in the United States have such "chronic nuisance" ordinances on the books. The ordinances are usually extremely vague, sometimes defining nuisance behavior as whatever city officials decide is an “annoyance” or an “inconvenience.” A majority of such laws rely on an “excessive” number of 911 calls to make that determination, all of which leave doors wide open for discriminatory enforcement.

That's because upon citation for being a "nuisance," property owners typically are instructed to "abate the nuisance" or face steep penalties, up to in different places thousands of dollars in fines, revocation of rental permits, or even seizure of the property. Many landlords respond by evicting the tenant, refusing to renew their lease, or demanding tenants not call 911 - because the laws make no distinction between a tenant that is a nuisance and a tenant that is a victim, so getting rid of the tenant is often the easiest and cheapest way to deal with it.

The result is that the people most hurt by these ordinances are poor, handicapped, elderly, and/or people of color - that is, people with fewer resources to fight back and fewer options to pursue - and most particularly survivors of domestic violence, forced to choose between enduring threats and violence or risking homelessness.

You want some examples? Here are three:

- One woman was evicted from her home after the City of Bedford, Ohio, labeled her a nuisance and fined her landlord $250. Her crime? Calling 911 on two occasions because her boyfriend threatened to commit suicide.

- A tenant in Neenah, Wisconsin, was evicted after police responded to two calls within four months. The police were called during the first incident because the tenant’s boyfriend overdosed on heroin.

- A man living with AIDS in Portland, Oregon, was too sick to clean his yard. A city inspector decided the yard was a nuisance. Portland issued a warrant against him while he was hospitalized for meningitis, charging him nearly $2000 for the clean-up. He didn't have the money and had to sell his home to satisfy the debt.

Too many people facing emergencies - a loved one is experiencing an opioid overdose or a mental health crisis or they themselves are the victims of domestic abuse or some other crime - too many people facing emergencies feel that they can’t call 911 because the end result will be that they lose their homes.

In 2016 the Obama administration called on local governments to repeal chronic nuisance ordinances and said it’d issue guidance on how enforcement of such ordinances could discriminate against people with disabilities and thus violate the Fair Housing Act. But they never followed through. The guidance never came. And now, of course, there's no way in hell it'll happen before 18 months from now at the soonest. Tweetie-pie's DOJ has said it won’t even force municipalities to follow existing federal guidelines.

Proponents of these laws argue they are necessary to deter crime and protect public safety but how in hell you do that by discouraging people from calling for help is far beyond my comprehension.

Activists have fought back with lawsuits and pressuring local lawmakers, with some success - but fighting something like this town by town is a discouragingly long undertaking. Happily, in May New York became the 10th state to pass a law saying you can't be evicted for calling 911. But that is a long way from putting an end to this outrage.


This next one is largely taken from Alternet's piece on this, so I want to give them most of the credit.

Okay. You send your child to school. Your kid gets lunch at school. Maybe you don't have the resources or the time to prepare a lunch or maybe they prefer school food, which if true means schools have much better food than when I was going but never mind.

Anyway, your child accrues a school lunch “debt.” Maybe it’s because you’re financially struggling and have to prioritize other bills, like maybe medicine or rent or food for dinner. Maybe you gave your child money for lunch and they forgot to hand it in or they lost it or someone stole it and they were too embarrassed or ashamed to say so. For whatever reason, the debt increases.

What does the school do? If your child attends the Wyoming Valley West School District in Kingston, Pennsylvania, they send you a threatening letter saying that if the debt is not paid, you could lose your child.

About one thousand parents received a letter with just this thinly veiled threat. The letter informs parents that, “Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch” - although how they knew about breakfast I have no idea - and alleges that failing to provide your child with food - as in, not packing them lunch or paying for a school meal - could result in parents being sent to Dependency Court.

“If you are taken to Dependency court," the letter reads, "the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.”

Making this obscene threat - remember, we are talking about a school lunch here - making it even worse is that the Wyoming Valley’s Cafeteria Purchase Charging and Insufficient Funds Policy (something obviously written by a government committee) doesn’t mention anything about going to court. Joseph Muth, the director of federal programs for the school district and the author of the letter, made it up.

Happily, no one outside the district is backing up the school's threat. In fact, County Manager David Pedri issued a statement saying
Foster care is to be utilized only when absolutely needed - when a child has been abused, is in need or has suffered a tragedy. It is NOT to be utilized to scare parents into paying school lunch bills.
And Joanne Van Saun, who runs the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services feels her agency was weaponized to threaten families, calling the letter "totally inappropriate and unnecessary."

It’s true, schools want to collect the money and in some school districts around the country that have such policies, the total debt for all families across the whole district can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

So I understand having a collections policy.  And indeed, Wyoming Valley West has one: If the debt gets big enough - $10, to be specific - the parents get a weekly automated phone call until it's paid. Which might be annoying but is is a far far cry from shaming kids by giving them PBandJ sandwiches instead of the regular lunch or, much worse, threatening families with taking away their children. That is simply unconscionable.

Even more unconscionable is the fact that this should be an issue at all. It's unconscionable that a family should ever be in a position to be unable to afford meals for their children. The thread of hunger - or to use the technical term, "food insecurity" - that weaves through our nation remains a moral and ethical outrage and cases like this, where people are threatened and shamed - and I hope Joseph Muth gets fired - when people are threatened and shamed for their struggles, well it just serves to put that outrage in ever starker relief.

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Okay, next up, our regular feature, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages and we start, as usual, with the Clowns.

Lincoln, Nebraska has more than 50 sculptures installed in places around the city as a public art project called "Serving Hands Lincoln."

The sculptures each consist of a pair of hands, open and holding something like a butterfly, a field of grain, flags of the world, or the moon.

One sculpture, however, so offended one Lincoln woman that she wrote to the mayor, demanding it be removed. She described it as "two hands open, painted Red and Black, and formed into Devil Horns."

She claimed it to be anti-Christian, demonic, ugly, perverse, and a "hate crime against the church," made worse - as if that were possible - by its proximity to the Lincoln Children's Zoo.

So what could be so bad that it would get such a description? You see it to the right.

Yep, the hands were those of Spiderman.

I never thought of myself as particularly tuned into popular culture, but this is a degree of dissociation I could never dream of achieving.

Footnote: City ombudsman Lin Quenzer told the woman no, we are not removing the sculpture. 


Mike Kelly
Next up, Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania said on July 16 that he was not offended by Tweetie-pie telling Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.”
“He does not offend me,” he said.

Kelly, pictured here, insisted that he had standing to talk about offense because, quoting him, “I’m a person of color. I’m white.”

You can’t really blame Kelly, though: He’s just trying to reassert his clown bona fides by maintaining the standard he set last year. In May 2018 he told Faux and Friends that Democrats spend too much time talking about racial inequality. “I said that's not America. We don't talk about those things."

In case the point wasn't clear, he added that the best way to “make America great” is to “stop talking about discrimination."


Meanwhile, Tweetie-pie had managed to pull together the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement - known as USMCA, which sounds like a bad first draft of a Village People song. It is intended as a replacement for NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement and includes a few minor improvement on labor and environmental standards - on paper, at least, but it lacks any enforcement mechanism, rendering those improvements nothing more than corporate promises and we know how much those can be trusted.

Bluntly, the real purpose of this supposedly but not really new agreement, which Mexico and Canada agreed to grudgingly, is for Tweetie-pie to take credit for a trade deal and get a nice press release out of it.

However, that's not the reason I bring this up now.

This is: On July 10, dozens of House Republicans flooded Twitter with a series of tweets demanding an immediate vote on the proposed trade deal, right now, today, accusing House Democrats in general and Nancy Peolosi in particular of "harming America" by "dragging their feet" on approval.

One problem: The White House has not submitted the agreement to Congress; in fact it doesn't plan to do so before September 1.

In other words, these dozens of 15-watt bulbs - and I mean incandescent bulbs, not the energy-saver type - are demanding an immediate vote to approve a bill that literally does not yet exist.

John Stuart Mill said it for all time: In a Parliamentary debate with Conservative MP John Pakington on May 31, 1866, he said "I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid persons; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it."


This I will say is old but it has just come to light as the result of a public records request, so in that sense it is new enough that I feel it's okay to include here.

William Latson in the principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida. In April 2018 he was asked by the mother of a student in an email how his school teaches about the Holocaust, which it’s required to do by state law.
Latson replied by saying that the school offers a one-day lesson to 10th graders but he said it’s not mandatory as some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”

The mother replied that “The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or a belief.”

Latson, however, persisted.“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently,” he reportedly replied.

Here’s the real money quote:
I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.
I wonder what the school teaches about the shape of the Earth and the Moon landing.

Latson added that the school presents information about the Holocaust to the students and allows them to make their own decisions about it. He said it does the same when it comes to slavery.


Allen McCoy
Speaking of which, we have the case of Allen and Patricia McCoy,who rent out a house in Adairsville, Georgia, a town of 3000-plus about 60 miles north of Atlanta.

According to a recently-filed lawsuit, the McCoys kicked out their white tenant, one Victoria Sutton, because she invited a black co-worker and his 5-year-old son over to her home.

“Maybe you like black dogs, but we don’t. So just get your stuff and get out,” Sutton was told in a conversation she recorded. She was subjected to multiple uses of the N-word by both McCoys as well as a physical threat.

The McCoys, of course, deny all of it and we know they must be innocent because, as Allen McCoy told a local TV station, “Some of the best friends I got is colored.”


Sebastian Gorka
Oh, and a quick one just to wrap up.

On his radio show on July 22, right wing flake Sebastian Gorka, a man whose name sounds like a monster in a Japanese sci-fi flick - you know, Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, Gorka - or better yet, from a remake of Clash of the Titans - "Release the Gorka!" - right wing flake Sebastian Gorka declared that
I think that whole trans thing started with Teletubbies. Remember? One of them wore a tutu.
No need to add anything.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Five Things Noted in Passing

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Five Things Noted in Passing

We have here the first appearance of another occasional feature, this one called Five Things Noted in Passing, five things worth noting, each of which will be addressed in no more than about a minute. In the course of two weeks, there are always a multitude of things that I simply will not have any time to address. This way I can at least mention some of them.

Okay, Number One: Scientists in Iceland are installing a plaque to memorialize the nation’s first glacier lost to climate change. It will be installed next month at the site of the now-extinct Okjökull glacier in Borgarfjörður and will include a “letter to the future” reminding humans to do better at tackling global warming.

Number Two: Sens. Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy have introduced a resolution to would brand the loose coalition of anti-fascist groups collectively known as Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.

However, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found that domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in 2018, making it fourth-deadliest for extremist attacks in the last 50 years. And "every single" one of those 50 "had a link to right-wing extremism."

Also according to the ADL, over the past 10 years, the far right has killed hundreds of people and accounted for about three-quarters of extremist murders in the US. Number connected to Antifa: 0

Number Three: Speaking to Chris Wallace on Faux News, presidential advisor and repeat winner of “Who Wants to be a Zombie” Stephen Miller said “I think the term ‘racist’ has become a label deployed by left/Democrats in this country to try to silence and punish and suppress people they disagree with, speech that they don’t want to hear.”

Quite true. Because “go back to where you came from” and “send her back” is speech that no decent person would want to hear.

The plaque
Number Four: On July 20, hundreds of activists rallied in Lawton, Oklahoma to demand Tweetie-pie stop imprisoning asylum-seeking children. Lawton is the site of Fort Sill, where the government intends to stick up to 1400 migrant children, starting next month.

Fort Sill was also the place where members of the Apache nation were imprisoned in the 1890s as their children were taken away and subjected to forced “assimilation” at the fort’s boarding school.

More recently, it is where 700 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II.

And Number Five: Finally, just a thought: There have been increasing attacks on Medicare for All, Medicare for All being defined here as universal health coverage that is not simply a minor extension of the ACA combined with increased subsidies for the private insurance industry disguised as “premium support.” A primary basis for these attacks has been the claim that polls say people are happy with their current coverage.

But here’s the thing: Are those people really happy with their insurance? Are they happy with the premiums, the co-pays, the deductibles, the medically-necessary procedures put on hold until you find out if “insurance will cover it,” the not being able to choose your doctor because they are “out of network?” Or are they just happy that they have insurance?

Put another way, are these polls really about public sentiment or are they truly trial balloons trying to determine which lies would be the most effective in scaring people away from universal coverage?

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Heroes and Villains

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Heroes and Villains

We start this time with a feature we call Heroes and Villains.

Our hero here is CNN.

Back in March, AP released the newest version of its style book, a reference used by a good number of media outlets. One significant change was to say that if something is racist, call it racist. Don't call it "racially charged" or "racially motivated" or "racially tinged," if it's racist, call it racist.

CNN apparently took this to heart because in the first mainstream media example I saw, an article about Tweetie-pie's attack Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib - aka “The Squad” - started with "In a series of racist tweets."

Usually, media would only use the word in a direct quote and even then would often prefer to say that "so-and-so objected to Trump's racially-infused language" rather than call it what it was. So it may not seem like much, but for any of the mainstream mass media to skip the euphemisms amounts to a breakthrough too long in coming. For being the first example I saw, CNN is our hero.

Our villain, on the other hand, is CNN.

In the same article, CNN noted a false accusation against Ilhan Omar that she had praised al-Qaeda when in fact she was describing the body language used by a college instructor in talking about the group. She was discussing the idea that terms like al-Qaeda are not translated into English - al-Qaeda means "The Base" or "The Foundation" - because that gives them "a bigger meaning," makes them seem more ominous. She said "You don't say 'America' with an intensity, you don't say 'England' with an intensity, you don't say 'the army' with an intensity. But you say these names because you want that word" - that is, al-Qaeda - " to carry weight."

CNN then said, quoting
It is possible to argue that Omar was making light of al Qaeda's crimes in suggesting that its name itself is what makes people recoil, or that she was implying that there is an equivalence between al Qaeda and the US army.
No, it's not possible! Not in the real world. Leaving aside the fact that I'm not at all sure that you can't draw some equivalence between al-Qaeda and the US army, there is no way a rational person could argue that she was "making light" of terrorist crimes.

CNN made a stab at defending Omar against the racist attacks, but it remains lost in the very same swamp of the phony “balance” of the very sort that made it impossible for so long to call racism by its proper name, and so couldn’t do it without giving the bigots and liars a script for another false attack against her.

And that makes the network a villain.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Erickson Report for July 24 to August 6

The Erickson Report for July 24 to August 6

Heroes and Villains

Five Things Noted in Passing

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

Remembering Lightning Bugs

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 4: A Longer Look at open borders

The Erickson Report, Page 4: A Longer Look at open borders

I promised last week to follow up on the idea of open borders as being worth a look. But what happened is that it wound up turning into A longer look - a longer look at open borders.

Open borders, in case the concept is not clear from the name, refers to a policy of unrestricted immigration, of free travel into and out of a nation with no more fuss than crossing the border between two US states. There can be trivial variations on that, such as requiring you to have either money for a few days' expenses or a place to stay, but we're not going to bother with those.

Okay. There are generally two types of argument, which sometimes overlap, raised in support of open borders: an economic one and a moral one.

At the top, one thing that can't be denied is that it would save money on enforcement. Open borders means no walls, no fences, no screening at airports, no ICE, no deportations, no detention centers, no immigration courts. The US spends in the neighborhood of $20 billion annually in immigration enforcement. Meanwhile, one study pegs the economic cost of wait times at the US-Mexico border alone to be more than $12 billion a year. Add the economic costs of wait times at other ports of entry and we could easily be talking about $40 billion a year on border security.

That's a lot of money but still it's small change in the larger, particularly the world, economy, so there's got be more to the economic argument, and there is. The real economic argument is based on hypothetical notions of economic efficiency.

The idea is that just as open borders in goods - "free trade" - supposedly allows physical resources to flow where they can be deployed most productively for their best use, so open borders for workers allows human resources to flow where they can be deployed most productively - and yes, workers do become more productive as they move from a poor country to a rich one because they join a labor market with ample capital and a predictable legal system.

The result of all this increased productivity, it's claimed, is that the world gets richer.

According to, four different studies have shown that, depending on the level of movement in the global labor market, the estimated growth in “gross world product” - the worldwide equivalent of GDP - would be in the range of 67% to 147%. Effectively, open borders would double the world's economic activity.

But here is the first rub and part of why I find the argument for open borders interesting enough to consider but not really persuasive. Let's suppose that's true, that open borders  produce a major increase in gross world product - GWP if you prefer. The world as a whole is richer but are the people richer? Or have we just created, as the very argument itself suggests, an even and ever greater divide between the rich nations and the poor ones, between the increasingly rich few and the increasingly desperate many? Even if we are to say that those coming in improve their own lot, what does that mean for those left behind?

It's argued that migrant workers often send money back home through remittances, which again could benefit a select few in those home countries, but how much of an impact could that have on the scale of a national economy, even for a poor nation?

And yes, what about those already here? Would the new arrivals drive down wages? Do they improve their own lot at the cost of driving down the lot of those already here to meet theirs?

The New Internationalist, hardly a right-wing source, says that multiple studies say wages are only minimally affected, if at all, by immigration, citing in particular one from Denmark which followed the wages and employment of every worker in the country between 1991 and 2008 and found that low-skilled wages and employment actually rose in response to the influx of refugees during that time.

Okay but even so, that is about low-skilled workers, not the economy as a whole and it's hard to accept that there is no impact when in the US corporations are increasingly using temporary visas known as H-1Bs to replace American high-skilled, particularly technology, workers with foreign workers because they will work for 25 to even 50 percent less than Americans.

More to the point, all of these cases - from the H-1B program to Denmark's dealing with a flood of refugees and all points in between - are still situations of controlled immigration, even if in the case of Denmark temporarily dramatically increased immigration. They are not open borders and it's reasonable to wonder how far those results can be extrapolated.

Meanwhile, the huge and widening wealth gap we are already seeing here at home is well-known enough to require no further reference; so even if we're to say that with open borders, low-skilled workers would be a little better off, the question remains of if open borders are a pathway, even a tool, for making that wealth gap, that gulf, even wider, that chasm even deeper, that barrier even harder to breach, a way to, if you will, give the poor an extra penny so the rich can have an extra dollar. Or ten. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.

Still still still, even if we ignore that, even if we say that well, we are one of those industrialized nations that will economically benefit, so we'll be better off even if it's a pittance so who cares, that only serves to raise a different issue: The fact remains that by some estimates, more than two-thirds of a person’s overall wealth is determined by where they live and work, that accident of place of birth is a major determinent of your wealth.

Which is where the economic and the moral cases come to overlap: Since where someone is born is entirely a matter of chance, the argument goes, there is no moral justification for compelling people to stay in a poor country. By the same token, those lucky enough to have been born in rich countries have no right to exclude others from their good fortune.

But they do: It's estimated that three-quarters of all border walls and fences in the world have been erected since 2000. Approaching 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everywhere you look the world has more barriers than ever.

Which just puts an exclamation point on the moral argument, since the main intention of most of these barriers is to preserve the privilege of the wealthy at the expense of the poor by restricting their access to the resources and opportunities available in wealthy countries - while the ability of the rich and even more of capital to move when and where they like is barely touched.

And by the way, not just move for the sake of mere residency. In 21 nations, mostly in Europe and the Caribbean but also Canada, the United States, Australia, and other places, the rich essentially - not literally but essentially - can buy citizenship by investing in the domestic economy.

By what right, by what moral standard, do we allow the perpetuation of that self-reinforcing cycle that increasingly secures and protects the rich against the world's poor, against the world's desperate, against the world's refugees, against those whose moral and ethical claim to a share of the world's resources is as great as their own?

I think the moral case for open borders is clear and correct. But I'm still divided because I have said many times about open borders that my heart says yes but my head says no.

Because what of the practical issues? We are assuming that open borders will lead to a large influx of new residents into the US, considerably more than are coming now - otherwise there isn't an issue. So what are the practical issues of dealing with that rapidly swelling population?

What are the implications, for example, for public education? For schools and the supply of teachers? For health care facilities and the supply of doctors, nurses, and all the other sorts of health care personnel? For the provision of social services, which we have to assume will need to be greatly expanded?

What are the implications for the housing stock? The people have to go somewhere. Do we wind up with shanty towns or overflowing cities packed with 21st century versions of the darkest days of Hell's Kitchen or the increasingly rapid replacement of farmland with pavement and buildings?

What about the increased demands for energy? What about utilities such as the electric grid? What would be the impacts on air and water pollution?

Speaking of energy, since as Americans our carbon footprint is so large, what would be the impact of increased demands for power on global warming?

There are also social questions. Even advocates of open borders acknowledge that in the short term unchecked migration could certainly corrode social cohesion due to cultural conflicts between natives and immigrants. Although in the longer run it likely would make little difference - recall Peter Andreas, who I quoted last time about the historically insecure nature of our borders, noting once "undesirable" sorts of immigrants being, a few generations later, "unremarkably American" - it is still a concern that would require attention.

And yet - yes, another but - it could just as easily develop that none of that would be a problem, at least not big ones.


Because open borders not only promote immigration, they promote emigration, they promote immigrants’ return to their original homes. If immigrants know they can go home and then maybe come back again in the future, they are less likely to put down roots. Many will come for a few years, to work or study or save some money, and then go home. This happens routinely in the European Union, which has largely open borders among member states.

Consider that even without open borders, in the 1960s, 70 million Mexicans crossed into the USA - and 85 per cent of them later returned to Mexico. But the more militarized our borders become, the more restrictive our policies become, the more those already here don't leave for fear they would never be able to come back because of the restrictions and the dangers associated with the trip.

And those dangers are very real and extend beyond concerns like arrest, incarceration, and even the tearing apart of families. The number of people dying while crossing borders has reached unprecedented levels.

The group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, about 10,000 people have died in their attempt to cross from Mexico into the US. According to the Customs and Border Protection, over 7,000 people died crossing that border between 1998 and 2017.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand die every year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe, a number that threatens to increase as intensified border enforcement forces people into the hands of smugglers for more perilous journeys while governments, as I noted last time, criminalize programs to save refugees from drowning. Six hundred have already died in 2019.

And the people will keep coming and they will keep dying because on one point history has produced undeniable evidence: No matter how harsh we make their journey, no matter how perilous we make their passage, no matter how dehumanizing we make their detention, no matter how many walls and fences we build, no matter how many guards and guns, dogs and drones we deploy, the conditions of poverty, of hunger, of oppression, of violence, of crime that these human beings experience is bad enough to make the risks worth taking.

Ultimately, it's clear that existing migration policies do not work. The fact is that for all the debates raging in Europe and America, rich countries still take in only a small fraction of the world’s most vulnerable migrants. Indeed, so-called Third World nations take in more refugees than industrialized nations do. Those rich countries - including the US - can and must do more.

I don't know if open borders is a good answer, I truly don't. I believe in it but I have my doubts about its practicality. Maybe I shouldn't worry about practicality in the face of a requirement of morality, but I do. What I can say and do say is that open borders is clearly worth considering and that at the very least we should stop being so afraid to do that.
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