It’s never enough to be merely brutal and punitive in America

We also have to devise ways to be ironically cruel

Hey buddy.

Here’s a question I had about the deployment of federal troops into our cities last week when they first arrived in Portland.

How does one know the unidentified camouflaged army man snatching you and putting you in a random van isn’t just a militia guy and what penalties do you face for defending yourself in that situation?

I am certain that you would face some obscene charges for assaulting a federal agent. Seems like a real bad deal man!

Unless you’re a military cosplayer serial killer who loves to kidnap people I guess. It’s probably a good turn of events for them. Those guys never catch a break.

Apparently it’s a good question legally speaking because the state of Oregon is now suing the Trump administration for the “kidnap and false arrest” of protestors in the state. As Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone explains:

In a harrowing new tactic, reminiscent of fascist regimes, armed federal officers without agency badges have begun grabbing protesters off the street, throwing them into unmarked cars and jailing them without formally arresting them, according to court records. The state of Oregon is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent what it alleges are violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against “unreasonable seizures” and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of due process.

“Ordinarily, a person exercising his right to walk through the streets of Portland who is confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argues in the suit.

“Defendants are injuring the occupants of Portland by taking away citizens’ ability to determine whether they are being kidnapped by militia or other malfeasants dressed in paramilitary gear (such that they may engage in self-defense to the fullest extent permitted by law) or are being arrested (such that resisting might amount to a crime).”

The president is now sending forces to Chicago and probably other cities soon and spending millions of dollars on ads aimed at scaring people into thinking noted Maoist Joe Biden is going to abolish the police and the suburbs and leave old ladies to fend for themselves when antifa come to the steal their liver medicine. I don’t think the next couple months are going to be “good” buddy. Probably not very good at all.

The anniversary of the killing of Eric Garner by the NYPD was the other day and I was reminded on Twitter of this breathtaking poem.

And this one I had never read which it echoes.

The other day I sent out to paid-subscribers a great and informative interview I did with Kim Kelly. Kelly is a journalist and labor activist involved with a group called No Cop Unions. We talked about why cops are not workers and why major labor groups should kick their asses out and also why the left should perhaps consider arming themselves going forward among other issues.

Instinctively to me it makes sense. But if you wanted to explain to someone why police aren’t workers and why they don’t belong in the labor movement, what would you say?

Well, they’re agents of the state...Police have never acted in solidarity with other workers. They’ve never been interested in protecting the rights of workers. They’re there to protect the interests of property and capital and power. They have never been on our side. Going back over the centuries, police have never stood beside us on a picket line, they’ve been there beating us and cracking our skulls. Some of the biggest events in labor history, like the Haymarket riots, were started by cops murdering striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works in Chicago. When it comes down to the definition of a worker, bosses are management, and a cop is a boss with a gun. There’s nothing that they have in common with actual workers. I think because the police are a diverse workforce with people from various walks of life there’s this sort of inclination that people like to say, well, they’re workers, they’re working class. They’re just regular guys. Well, ok, if a regular guy iron worker murders someone, he’s gonna lose his job. Can you say that about these “regular guy” cops? You can’t, because that’s how the system is set up. It may seem reductive to go to an us and them framework, but honestly they started it.  

Subscribe and then read it here if you like.

Please enjoy these important milestones from my pre-Covid life.

InsideHook published a piece today on The 80 Best Single-Operator Newsletters and they included Hell World so that’s nice of them. I love being a single-operator.

Welcome To Hell World
A fever dream of a newsletter from Luke O’Neil. It is a random assortment of political musings, links, information and some of the messiest style and syntax — in a good way — you’ve ever seen in a professional product. It’s a lot to handle, but it’s great. 

They also included these two creeps though so maybe their judgement is off.

Reply Alt
From well-known music critic Dan Ozzi, Reply Alt covers all things rock, punk and alt alongside other pop-cultural happenings with a heavy dose of snark.

Bad Sandwich Chronicles Beyond Thunderdome
From punk-rock musician Brendan Kelly, this is a wild newsletter of rambling lists and thoughts filled with profanity and sexual allusions that is as hilarious as it is keenly observant of the times. Worth the read even if you’re not into punk rock, because the newsletter doesn’t actually have much to do with the musical genre beyond personal anecdotes from Kelly. 

I’ve been reading an old sci-fi book from the 1950s called The Solar Marionettes. It’s set in a near future in which citizens of a dystopian culture much like ours are regularly cycled in and out of prison for insignificant crimes where they’re forced to labor for little to no pay manufacturing useless trinkets for the unbothered class to consume. One scene in particular that stuck out to me comes toward the end where the main character realizes he’s being made to sew the flag of the occupying force that has set the entire brutal apparatus in motion the very symbol of his oppression and he just kidding that’s real life idiot it’s happening right now. Check this shit out:

MassCor is the state operated program that runs the prison labor system in my fair Commonwealth. It’s been in operation since 1887. Your state probably has one just like it. Since then their website explains “the program's mission of subsidizing the cost of incarceration while providing a meaningful vocational training experience has remained virtually unchanged.”

“Instilling the importance of work ethics and vocational skills to over 500 offenders, MassCor operates 17 manufacturing operations within seven institutions.”

Those people are paid between 85 cents $1.45 an hour.

The direct line between the end of slavery and the establishment of prison labor is well documented. This excerpt from the book American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer is a good place to start:

“Nationwide, inmates’ labor is essential to running prisons,” Bauer wrote in Slate.

“They cook, clean, do laundry, cut hair, and fulfill numerous administrative tasks for cents on the dollar, if anything, in hourly pay. Prisoners have been used to package Starbucks coffee and make lingerie. In California, inmates volunteer to fight the state’s wildfires for just $1 an hour plus $2 per day.

The link between prison labor and slavery is not merely rhetorical. At the end of the Civil War, the 13th amendment abolished slavery “except as a punishment for a crime.” This opened the door for more than a century of forced labor that was in many ways identical to, and in some ways worse than, slavery.

You might also read this piece from the Atlantic from a few years ago:

Some viewers of the video might be surprised to learn that inmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?

Not quite. In the shining promise of freedom that was the Thirteenth Amendment, a sharp exception was carved out. Section 1 of the Amendment provides: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Simply put: Incarcerated persons have no constitutional rights in this arena; they can be forced to work as punishment for their crimes.

Or this piece by an incarcerated man named Kevin Rashid Johnson writing for the Guardian about why he refuses to labor in prison which was pegged to a nationwide strike back in 2018:

Anybody convicted of a crime after 1865 could be leased out by the state to private corporations who would extract their labor for little or no pay. In some ways that created worse conditions than under the days of slavery, as private corporations were under no obligation to care for their forced laborers – they provided no healthcare, nutritious food or clothing to the individuals they were exploiting.

Though I’ve always refused to engage in this modern slavery myself, I’ve witnessed plenty of examples of it. The most extreme were in Texas and Florida, where prisoners are forced to work in the fields for free, entirely unremunerated.

They are cajoled into chain gangs and taken out to the fields where they are made to grow all the food that inmates eat: squash, greens, peas, okra. They are given primitive hand-held tools like wooden sticks and hoes and forced to till the soil, plant and harvest cotton.

They are watched over all day by guards on horseback carrying shotguns. Elite posses of prisoners are used to keep other prisoners in line, through open coercion and violence.

Prisoners who do not agree to such abject slavery are put in solitary confinement. I know from personal experience.

Or you might listen to this recent podcast from Bill Humphrey who shared that tweet up above. Humphrey is a leftist city councilor in Newton, Massachusetts which is kind of surprising to see as its one of if not the richest cities in the state and for some reason where basically every single famous comedic actor “from Boston” grew up. The program talks through the use of prison labor to fight fires in California and goes into the Masscor situation then up to the Bloomberg campaign’s use of prison labor for phone banking during the primary this year and everything in between.

All of which is terrible obviously but something about this little added extra indignity of prisoners incarcerated for nothing laboring for nothing to produce the somehow even more-racist than usual American flag is too much. It’s never enough to be merely brutal and punitive in America we also have to devise ways to be ironically cruel.

Here’s a piece in the Washington Post you’ll want to read about hundreds of people in Oklahoma camping out overnight hoping to get their unemployment claims processed.

[John] Jolley’s unemployment claim was approved in March but had been stalled, a problem that hadn’t been fixed after nine phone calls and hours on hold with the OESC.

The 58-year-old single father arrived in the parking lot of the River Spirit Expo center in Tulsa around 9 p.m. on a sultry night with a heat index approaching 100 degrees. The landmark 75-foot statue of the Golden Driller — a nod to Tulsa’s oil and gas hub — towered over one side of the dark parking lot, his face painted over with a surgical mask.

Dozens more sat in the parking lot overnight with Jolley, unable to get their questions answered through the unemployment agency’s overloaded phone system. Some said they had been notified that their claim was denied as fraudulent. Jolley quickly bonded with the woman in the next car over, a manicurist named Cindy La, 60, the two swapping tips on how they thought the event would unfold.

That afternoon, as Jolley gathered up the paperwork he’d need for his claim, he felt a sense of sadness as profound as anything he’d felt since the pandemic began.

“It’s a very dark feeling,” he said. “You just kind of feel like you’re in a boat without a rudder and you’re riding the waves. After all these years you worked hard at your company, tried to be a good guy and be fair to your clients, you just feel like you’re losing control of your future.”

Perhaps related (?)

Here’s a piece in the New York Times I quite liked too well not liked but you know what I mean. It’s by a teacher explaining why she doesn’t feel safe going back to work which is an outlook I am rather familiar with living as I do with a teacher who doesn’t feel safe going back to work.

Every day when I walk into work as a public-school teacher, I am prepared to take a bullet to save a child. In the age of school shootings, that’s what the job requires. But asking me to return to the classroom amid a pandemic and expose myself and my family to Covid-19 is like asking me to take that bullet home to my own family.

I won’t do it, and you shouldn’t want me to.

It’s a fine piece overall but man that sentence there “…like asking me to take that bullet home to my own family.” Jesus.

Mark Berman of the Post shared the article and asked a question I can’t get out of my head now either. “…How are you supposed to do active shooting drills that involve teaching kids to huddle together out of sight if schools do reopen with social distancing rules?”

No crying when the shooter comes in kids you might get your covid tears on your classmates.

Check this shit out it’s one of the most sociopathic pieces of writing on what journalism should be I've read in a long time. It’s by Steve Salerno who is an adjunct teacher of journalism of some kind I gather (not an actual professor as he says) and a real big fucking turd.

Each semester I struggle to communicate to a new crop of students that our proper class concern is less the ethics of what we’re covering than the ethics of how we cover it. I illustrate with the prevailing media spin on illegal immigration.

Of course anyone with a beating heart recoiled at that horrifying photo of father and daughter face-down in the Rio Grande. Such tragedies shock the conscience. And yet, I tell my students, to cover immigration chiefly in terms of drowning families or babies ripped from their mothers’s arms is unethical in its dismissal of the interests of those who want borders strictly enforced (even if such austerity sometimes has tragic results). Similarly, the ethical journalist would not cover COVID-19 in a manner that paints as evil those who (1) want America fully reopened and (2) view the attendant sacrifice of some lives as part of a reasonable cost-benefit calculus.

I am ever mindful of Hayes’s parable in my latter-day role as a professor of media ethics — especially these days, amid the ubiquitous backdrop of the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests. Quite simply, the mainstream media have abandoned even the merest pretense of journalistic distance in affording a social movement the most credulous, uncritical handling I’ve seen during my lengthy career in journalism as practitioner and teacher.

Make no mistake: I am not attacking BLM or its goals, per se. I’m just stating that with the exception of farcically Trumpista outlets like OANN, journalism appears fully bought in to the near-runic narrative of systemic racism, white privilege, and associated themes.

Here’s some more dog shit from a journalism professor at Elon University I saw yesterday.

Please if any younger or aspiring journalists read this newsletter do not listen to these people and people like them who are everywhere. I know I say this a lot but I can't emphasize enough how much the traditions of journalism are fake it's like calling shotgun or dibs it's just magic everyone agrees to because they got peer pressured into thinking it was an immutable law. You can do whatever you want.

As for trying to remain unbiased I’m sorry but there are almost always clear good guys and clear bad guys and if you have trouble distinguishing between the two you are the latter. Look back on any of that shit I mentioned above. Are you having any trouble picking out which side are the fucking villains? If so you may just have a lucrative career ahead of you in prestige journalism.

The rest of us with morals and empathy and without a hole trepanned into our skulls might not make it up the career ladder but that’s fine because it’s a rotten career anyway. A journalist should not be objective or unbiased or any of those other lies made up by the powerful to convince us to go easy on them. A journalist should be an activist for the less powerful and a pain in the fucking balls to the powerful and that’s it. Everything else is merely writing words down which is fine but it’s not journalism it’s writing words down.

Ok here’s a nice song. See you next time. Goodbye.