Tag Archives: Crime

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Voters’ Message: We Exist

Dayton mummified

I think it was over Thanksgiving dinner. My mother’s best friend, a dear woman who has never been other than good to me and my mom, decided to poke some gentle fun, Dayton Ohio-style, at me.

Actually, let me be more specific. It wasn’t Dayton. The conversation took place in Kettering. It’s a suburb of Dayton. A small suburb called Oakwood separates Dayton and Kettering.

“Ted,” my mom’s friend began, “what’s with these terrible descriptions of our city? The way you write, you’d think this was some bleak post-industrial wasteland.” She motioned out the window to her manicured lawn, punctuated by a set of perfect flowers. As were those of her neighbors. As if to drive home her point, a bird chirped.

I held my ground. “What about down by Route 4? Rusted-out factories, meth houses. It’s like a war zone.”

“But that’s” — she searched for the word — “downtown. That’s not here.”

“It’s five or six miles, at most,” I pointed out. “You can walk there!”

And you can, if you don’t much care about personal safety.

Dayton is a mess. Once a booming manufacturing city, its population is plunging, having shrunk by half in 50 years. Its housing stock, including historical buildings, have been gutted. After decades of factory and corporate closures accelerated by free trade deals like NAFTA, the local economy sucks. Crime, driven by my hometown’s status as Ground Zero of the national opiod epidemic that has turned so many young men into corpses that the morgue ran out of room, has made Dayton even more dangerous than Chicago. The 2008-09 housing crisis left countless homes abandoned (but cheap! you can buy one for four figures). Fearing eviction in 2009 but receiving no help from a government who instead gave $7.77 trillion to the banks with no strings attached, one poor guy hanged himself; a kid found his mummified body five years later. He should have stuck around. The banksters never bothered to foreclose on his modest house.

So much misery, so little help from the government. Four out of five Ohioans who lost their jobs receive zero unemployment benefits.

Downtown Dayton, and its citizens, were dead to my mom’s friend. But not to me. I used to take the bus there to look at record stores and attend meetings at Democratic Headquarters. Sometimes, yes, I walked. After I left Dayton for New York, the road from the Dayton airport to my mom’s house sometimes took me through downtown. Downtown was real. Downtown existed.

If downtown Dayton was less than afterthought to suburbanites a hop, skip and jump away, it was a black hole as far as the national media and the political strategists were concerned. Daytonians didn’t donate to presidential campaigns. (They couldn’t afford to.) More than 40% black as the result of postwar “white flight” to suburbs like Kettering and Oakwood, downtown was reliably Democratic. Republicans didn’t bother; Democrats took Dayton for granted.

You’ve probably already figured out that this essay is a parable about the Rise of Trump. Downtown Dayton was far from unique. There were downtown Daytons all over the post-industrial Midwest: ignored, forgotten, taken for granted. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — states Hillary Clinton ought to have won, and was so sure she was going to win that she hardly showed up, but went Republican in 2016.

Dayton Congressman Tony Hall (disclosure: I worked for one of his campaigns) watched the growing chasm between his working-class — and unemployed poor — constituents and the national Democratic Party, in thrall to the Clintons, free trade, and Wall Street contributors. “A lot of Democrats in the Midwest feel that they didn’t leave the Democratic Party — they feel like the Democratic Party left them,” Hall says. That was me, for sure. “As long as we had our 10 or 12 auto plants, we were pretty good, but we felt that the NAFTA deal made it a lot easier for companies to go to Mexico — and they did. They shut down our factories,” remembers Hall. Young adult voters “saw their moms and dads lose their jobs and they didn’t think anyone did anything for them.”

Day after day, the citizens of Dayton and Flint and Milwaukee opened their newspapers and flipped the cable news channels. Never, ever was there anyone talking about, much less interested in solving, their problems. As far as the elites — and that included Democratic politicians like Hillary — were considered, victims of rapacious global capitalism didn’t exist and didn’t matter.

Until Trump.

Trump didn’t offer credible solutions. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help Rust Belters as president. What he did do was acknowledge their existence.

Writing about the French election, Édouard Louis wrote that a similar cri de Coeur motivated many Marine Le Pen voters. Louis grew up poor: “In the minds of the bourgeoisie…our existence didn’t count and wasn’t real.” That was the message of many Trump voters to the op-ed writers of The New York Times: we know he isn’t perfect, but at least he knows we exist.

Despite Bernie (and Trump), the Hillary Clinton Democrats still don’t get it. When Trump mentioned “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” in his inaugural address, my liberal New York friends shook their heads. Like my mom’s friend, they had no idea what Trump was talking about.

The misery is real.

They exist — sometimes they exist five or six miles away.

“They” are us.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: No College, No Job. College is Expensive. Is It Any Wonder Students Turn to Porn?

http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/xx_factor/2014/Duke_porn.jpg.CROP.promo-medium2.jpg

Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.

Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.

Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”

Tabloids and gossip sites are reveling in their usual witches’ brew of judginess and salacious intrigue.

Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.

About that Post columnist:

Ruth Marcus, Old Enough to Be Knox’s Grandma and apparently a freelance psychologist, calls Knox a “troubled young woman.”

If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.

“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.

“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”

Charming.

Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”

Two things.

One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.

Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.

Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.

So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”

Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.

Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.

Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.

Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.

When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.

I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)

I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.

One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.

I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.

Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.

If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.

But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.

I thought Manhattan was Long Island.

Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.

The President says it too.

Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.

Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”

Wrong.

Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.

The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: The Charming Old 911 Script

Flipping the Script

 

“By early next year,” reports The Times’ Ben Welsh and Robert J. Lopez, the [Los Angeles Fire Department] expects its dispatchers to be using new, streamlined scripted questions that will help get LAFD ambulances en route seconds — even minutes — faster during cases of cardiac arrest and other time-critical emergencies.”

I won’t be so churlish as to greet this decidedly positive news with a question: Isn’t it a bit odd to announce that “time-critical emergencies” occurring between now and “early next year” will be treated like they’re not, well, time-critical?

If you could just hold off on your next heart attack until, say, April 2015, that’d be awesome.

More from the report: “The changes follow a barrage of criticism of the department’s 911 response system, including what experts say are sometimes lengthy and confusing pre-written questions that panicked callers must answer before dispatchers can get help on the way.”

If you’ve ever had to call 911, you’re nodding your head right now. The old/current/won’t change until 2015 system has long deployed a “what’s the rush” that belies the whole idea behind 911.

In the movies, emergency response is high-tech and manically efficient.

911 Operator: “911.”

Caller: “Oh my God — someone’s in the house! [Line goes dead.]

911 Operator to Police Dispatcher: “A woman is in trouble. Address: 422 Patterson, Unit 302.”

Dispatch: “Units due to arrive in 20 seconds. SWAT backup team on the way. Probably drones. Maybe Mel Gibson.”

911 Operator to Dispatcher: “For God sake, hurry ­— a woman may be in trouble, and she may be a hot starlet!”

When I call 911 in real life, the response is…efficient? Not so much .

911 Operator: “911.”

Me: “I just saw a car lose control on the 405 and flip over.”

911 Operator: “What’s your name?”

Me (thinking): “What difference does that make?”

911 Operator: “What is your phone number?”

Me (thinking):  “Can’t you ask the NSA? I mean, aren’t you supposed to know that? Or do you guys not have caller ID? And also, shouldn’t you first be asking me where the accident is?”

911 Operator: “Are there any injuries?”

Me (thinking): “Do you seriously think I’d be talking to you on the phone — i.e., not helping — if I’d pulled over to help?”

911 Operator (not thinking): OK, we’re sending someone out.

Me: Shouldn’t you have done that, like, three minutes ago?

So yeah, good on the LAFD for this change. The new 911 will save lives. Next year.

But who knows? We might miss the chit-chat.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Does Your Brain Have a Right to Privacy?

Cannibals, Thoughtcrime and a Rising Police State

“I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me because I was young,” the wife of 28-year-old NYPD “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle testified at his trial.

After she installed keyboard-tracking software on his laptop, Kathleen Mangan-Valle went on, she found that her husband planned to stuff one of her friends in a suitcase and murder her. Two other women were “going to be raped in front of each other to heighten their fears,” while another would be roasted alive over an open fire.

Planned? Or fantasized?

There’s no evidence that Officer Valle, on trial for conspiracy to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women, ever acted on his voreaphilia, a cannibalism fetish. If convicted, however, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

George Orwell called it “thoughtcrime”: punishing people for their thoughts rather than their actions. The case of the cannibal cop – or, more accurately, the wannabe cannibal cop – is a perfect illustration of why a society can be tempted to try to monitor what goes on in people’s brains, and to sanction citizens whose opinions and fantasies fail to conform to “normalcy.” Suppose the federal jury lets Officer Valle off the hook. The idea of this guy roaming the streets of Manhattan picturing the women he sees roasting on a spit – one of the staged (ßlink not safe for work) and Photoshopped images he perused online – is, well, the word creepy hardly does it justice.

Voreaphiliacs are rare, but one of the great things about the Internet is that it allows pervs and other weirdoes to find one another. “If you were someone mildly interested in cannibalism 30 years ago, it was really hard to find someone in real space to find common cause with,” Joseph V. DeMarco, ex-chief of the cybercrime unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, told The New York Times. “Whereas online, it’s much easier to find those people, and I think when you have these communities forming, validating each other, encouraging each other, it’s not far-fetched to think that some people in that community who otherwise might not be pushed beyond certain lines might be.”

That’s what happened in Germany in 2001, when a man who responded to an online post seeking a victim willing to be killed, slaughtered and eaten got his wish. No one disputes that the 43-year-old Berlin engineer died voluntarily; the cannibal videotaped his chatty – and perfectly happy – prey before finishing him off.

As bizarre and – yes, I’ll say it – disgusting and terrifying as the so-called cannibal cop’s online chats were, I am disturbed by convicting people for actions that they not only never committed, but might never have committed. And yeah, things – bad things, as in Germany, do really happen sometimes. But as Sartre said, we are all responsible for our actions. Should we go to prison for our fantasy lives? Should we give up our right to cranial privacy to protect ourselves from the exceedingly rare chance that some nut will eat someone?

Take another look at the quote above by Joseph DeMarco. It’s so full of conjecture and speculation: “not far-fetched”…”might”…”might.” Well, anyone might do anything, right?

What if Saddam had WMDs? What if they had them and what if they gave them to terrorists? And then, what if those terrorists used them against us? If if if.

We know what happens when we act based on ifs.

Thoughtcrime prosecutions often revolve around sex. A 50-year-old man in South Florida currently faces more than 3000 years in prison for possession of child pornography. (Prosecutors filed separate 15-year counts for each of 200 videos found on his hard drive.) Even if you buy the demand-side argument that no one would make kiddie porn if no one bought it – a dubious claim, given the zillions of people who happily “sext” nude photographs of themselves for free – aren’t we forgetting something? Looking at child pornography isn’t the same as producing and disseminating it. In America, convicted rapists serve an average of about eight years. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send the actual rapists away for three millennia?

As America continues to degenerate into unapologetic authoritarianism, prosecutions for thoughtcrime are increasingly common. In 2008 a Pennsylvania woman, Karen Fletcher, was sentenced under a plea bargain for writing fictional erotic stories about sex with children. The victimized children didn’t exist; her criminal record does. In 2001 an Ohio man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “textual child porn” – writing stories in his private journal that depicted kids being raped and tortured. Again, no actual kids were hurt. The diary was for personal consumption and never shown to anyone else.

In 2010 an Iowa man was forced to plead guilty and went to prison for six months for possession of porn manga – Japanese-style comics – that depicted children having sex. The same thing happened in October 2012 to another consumer of kiddie porn manga, this one in Missouri.

In the Missouri case a press release by Project Safe Childhood asserted that “the depictions clearly lack any literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Of that, I have little doubt. The same could be said of the contents of most TV shows.

Hysteria leads to irrationality. Dwight Whorley of Richmond, Virginia is serving 20 years in federal prison for looking at Japanese anime images of cartoon children being raped. Upholding the decision, Judge Paul Niemeyer of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that “it is not a required element of any offense under this section [of the law] that the minor depicted actually exists.”

WTF?

Has it ever occurred to anyone that cartoon porn might be beneficial to society, a way for people whose fetishes are illegal to get themselves off without hurting anyone?

The main reason that so many of these cases, including that of the so-called cannibal cop, are prosecuted in federal court is that most state and local jurisdictions set a higher bar for conspiracy convictions, requiring that at least one member of the conspiracy be proven to have taken at least one decisive action toward carrying it out. The young Somali-American charged with plotting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland in 2010, for example, was handed a fake detonator by an undercover agent and told it would set off a bomb. He pushed it. I agree with the jurors. He meant to do it.

The cannibal cop, kiddie porn and other thoughtcrime cases, on the other hand, involving sending people to prison for things that they thought, not that they did. I don’t see how any society that does that can call itself free.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Rape as God’s Will

Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign says he still supports Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock after Mourdock said “God intended” pregnancies that result from rape. The campaign has not asked Mourdock to pull a TV ad featuring Romney. Mourdock, who has been locked in one of the country’s most expensive and closely watched Senate races, was asked during the final minutes of a debate Tuesday night whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said.

This time: I explain Republican science.

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The Ultimate Crime

Congress is investigating to find out who leaked the story that Obama has a secret “kill list” of political assassination targets, and that the U.S. conspired with Israel to infect Iran with the Stuxnet computer virus, to the New York Times. Shouldn’t they be investigating those activities, which are crimes, instead?

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