Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Sketchy Police Shooting in Albuquerque

This time, the woman who was shot and killed was the adopted daughter of a Valencia County Magistrate.

"But she was running!" "She pulled a gun!" "She stole a car!" There will be an endless litany of victim blaming.

The only thing we can be sure of is that she was on the run. Whether she had a gun or she stole a car is subject to the word of the police, and in Albuquerque the police are not known for their truthfulness. They're known for their bloodlust. Her death at the hands of police was the third in the last five weeks in Albuquerque. In other words, the killings continue, despite the DoJ report and vows to reform.

Mary Hawkes was her name. She was 19. She was suspected of car theft. Apparently the suspect car was reported stolen at 3:30 in the morning on Monday. It or one like it was spotted in a parking lot at around five am. Shortly afterwards, police gave chase, apparently following the stolen car, or one like it, for some twenty minutes, when the apparent driver, Mary Hawkes, got out near a car wash and attempted to escape on foot.

A police officer followed, backed up by several others who arrived on the scene. Sometime later, several shots were fired. Mary Hawkes was struck and killed. A number of bullets were lodged in buildings nearby her corpse.

The police officer who chased and shot Mary Hawkes dead, Jeremy Dear, claims she pulled a gun on him, and that's why he fired. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. There were no other named witnesses to the pursuit and shooting of Mary Hawkes, and there is no one who can vouch for the word of the police officer who shot her -- except other police officers. Witnesses who heard the shots say there was only one gun fired, a total of three or possibly four times. Given the time of day, however, before dawn, it's hard to believe -- without corroborating evidence *which has not been produced* -- that what the officer said he saw Mary Hawkes had in her hand was actually a gun, or that it was aimed at him if it was a gun.

After all, they were apparently running on a relatively dark street well before dawn. Other squad cars with lights flashing had arrived nearby. She could have had anything in her hand -- or nothing. With adrenalin pumping and little light to see by, the most mundane objects could appear menacing to an officer in pursuit of a running girl.

That evening, during a candlelight vigil for Mary Hawkes at the site of her death, a man claiming to be her husband or fiancé -- accounts vary -- arrived brandishing weapons, in obvious distress. The weapons, an assault rifle and a pistol, were toys he said, when apparently he was confronted by a police officer nearby. He expressed his deep anguish over the death of his loved one, and said he had nothing more to live for, even called for "suicide by cop." He got into an SUV -- which he said he'd borrowed -- and drove away. Police were detailed to pursue. They used a PIT maneuver to stop the vehicle and spike strips to blow out the tires, but the man, Mario Romero, continued driving on rims until he finally stopped and tried to escape on foot. Apparently, he was bitten by a police dog during his attempted escape. There was a passenger in the SUV, an underage girl, so Romero was charged with child endangerment and kidnapping among other crimes, including car theft, as the vehicle was apparently reported stolen.

Interesting that despite the fact that Romero "brandished guns" -- observed by many witnesses -- during his encounters with police, he was not shot at let alone shot at any time during his pursuit or when showing his weapons, whereas his fiancé was shot dead before dawn because -- said the man who shot her -- she pointed a gun at him.

Perhaps, because she was the adopted daughter of a retired county judge, the truth of the matter will come out in this case, perhaps not. Mary Hawkes was, after all, another "victim of the system" as they say,  and shooting her may have been, if not justified, at the very least, merciful. A form of euthanasia for those who don't quite fit...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Kill A Mockingbird at Albuquerque Little Theatre

"Don't you say 'Hey' to me, you ugly girl." -- Mrs. Dubose, "To Kill A Mockingbird"
During the course of events, Jean Louise Finch points out that "baby steps" are being taken toward the future in the South, and the story of Tom Robinson is -- as tragic as it is -- one small step toward redemption.

We saw Albuquerque Little Theatre/Mother Road Theatre Company production of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" (adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel) on Easter Sunday, and somehow it apropos for the season and for the day.

I've been pondering the production and its many strengths and flaws ever since.

The story is one of the iconic stories of the South, as strong as any that has come out of that hotbed of literary ferment. The Pulitzer Prize winning novel was published in 1960, the extraordinary motion picture from which the clip above was taken premiered in 1962. Ever since, "To Kill A Mockingbird" has been a perennial favorite of readers, theater-goers and movie fans around the world.

We've seen "To Kill A Mockingbird" once before on stage, at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City, California, perhaps 20 years ago. It was a not particularly memorable experience for me for a number of reasons that had little to do with the production itself. Unfortunately, I remember so little of it, I can't use it as a comparison.

Albuquerque Little Theatre is an institution in the Duke City, one of the foundational theater companies in town -- if not actually the first community theater in Albuquerque (accounts vary) -- celebrating its 84th season this year. I've been involved with some of these historical community theaters over the years, and while I have a great deal of respect for them, they tend to become encrusted with... well, let's call it tradition which they can't break from without somehow destroying their essence.

I blame it on Eva Le Gallienne who founded the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York in 1924 (or thereabouts) thus triggering the notion of Civic Theaters -- as community based theatrical and cultural institutions -- throughout this great land of ours. The Civic Theater idea is clearly still alive in Albuquerque, for which I'd say 'Burqueños can be both grateful and a mite miffed. The strength of the City's Civic Theater, ALT, has meant that professional theater has had a somewhat lower profile than it might otherwise have had -- especially given the remarkably active and vibrant screen and television production schedules in the region. Consequently, in New Mexico, while I'm aware of a few professional theaters (or maybe just one company that performs in many venues), most of the professional actors and directors work on stage under the community/civic theater concept.

Albuquerque Little Theatre performs in an iconic building designed by New Mexico's premiere architect, John Gaw Meem, and built by the WPA in 1935, opening in 1936. It was, they say, the first WPA project in Albuquerque, and I must say that despite its significant age (and only slight remodeling over the years, slight but not very judicious), it's quite a handsome and comfortable performance venue all things considered. I will have more to say about the staging of the play, however, which indicates the director didn't take into consideration all the limitations of the hall...

The stunning historical-deco mural painted on the entrance front of the building by Dorothy Stewart is no longer visible due to one of those injudicious remodelings. I imagine that given the fact that the mural depicts a battle between Christians and Moors derived from a New Mexican play of ancient date, it was considered at one time to be a dubious depiction from a culturally sensitive perspective and was covered up. I think I read somewhere that it was actually destroyed, but I can't be certain any more...

At any rate, the building is surprisingly large (Albuquerque was quite a small town in 1935), and commodious. It looked to me like the capacity was close to four or five hundred what with the balcony and all, and Easter Sunday it was nearly full.  Our seats were on the far house right, fifth row, which presented some sightline challenges, as it meant that nothing that happened at the Finch house door or very much of what happened on the Finch porch was visible to my own self. This is something that could have been easily corrected, and in my view should have been, as the Finch porch and front door are some of the key locations of the play. To stage the play so that what happens there is invisible to any significant portion of the audience -- or to any of the audience at all -- is an indication that neither the director nor the set designer checked the sightlines of the house, and to me that is a major fault. The easy correction is to angle the Finch house porch and front door more toward the center of the stage (there appeared to be ample room on the setting to do so) and to have any cast members who perform on the Finch porch or at their front door cheat toward the center of the stage. Any number of alternative locations for the Finch place were possible on the stage as well...

More problematical, however, was the fact that the children were barely comprehensible through pretty much all of the play. If one was not already familiar with the story, one would be hard-pressed to understand much of what the children were seeing and learning, let alone what they were saying.

The three main child performers (Mackenzie L. Jarrell playing Scout Finch, Traeton Pucket playing her brother Jem, and Logan Smith playing their friend Dill, on summer vacation from his home in Meridian, Mississippi) were really quite good in that they knew their lines and staging perfectly, and they appeared to have good handles on their characters and an understanding of the play itself. The problem was that they were using Southern accents that were not natural to them, and their accents destroyed their diction to the point where what came out of their mouths was mostly mush, well chewed to be sure, but not identifiable as any known language.

The fact that apparently no one involved with the production noticed that the children could not be understood, and no one intervened to correct their diction -- or to have them drop the accent -- is almost beyond belief and makes me wonder if the principals were paying attention during rehearsals and the run to date.

If one knows the story, I suppose it's not such a great loss if the dialogue between the children and between the children and the adults is mostly lost. And for those who don't know the story, the narration of the grown up Jean Louise Finch (played by Mother Road Artistic Director Julia Thudium) fills in some of the missing pieces, but I, for one, was appalled that every time the children opened their mouths, 90% or so of their lines were lost. Both the sightline problems and the children's hideous diction are basic issues that should have been resolved in rehearsal. The production, after all, was cast last year, and there's been more than enough time to deal with these matters.

The diction problem was particularly curious given the fact that Atticus Finch, father to Scout and Jem, though no relation to Dill, did not have a Southern accent at all.  No, he did not, and he didn't need one. The issue is not the way the Finches talk -- although note is made during Tom Robinson's trial that Atticus does not speak the way the Ewells do nor the way many of the townspeople do. That is part of his character, after all, though his speech pattern and accent are not the issue. Seems to me that if Atticus doesn't have an accent, his children wouldn't necessarily have one, either. Given the fact that the children performing in the main roles were not accustomed to using a Southern accent I would have simply dropped their use of an accent so as to enable their lines to be understood by the audience.

Overall, the staging was serviceable but somewhat pedestrian in that the cast tended to line up to converse or declaim. The size of the stage actually permitted a good deal more varied blocking which could have been used to some interesting and varied effects (so long as those sightlines were kept in mind!)

The only other questionable aspect I would point to is that the actor playing Atticus (Christopher Atwood) tended to overplay rather than underplay his scenes, especially the trial scenes, and too often, he seemed to be rushing his lines rather than letting them play out and giving the audience an opportunity for the import of what he's saying to sink in. Taking a beat here and there for emphasis could really have helped, and lowering rather than raising his voice could have helped even more. I realize the size of the place may have been a primary consideration in how 'Big' the actors played their parts, but still... Harper Lee makes quite clear that Atticus's "way" was to soften rather than to raise his voice and to speak slowly and clearly rather than to rush.

The other actors -- especially Hakim Bellamy as Tom Robinson, and Yvonne Mangrum as Calpurnia -- did what I thought were outstanding jobs. Hakim Bellamy is Albuquerque's poet laureate who's apparently done quite a bit of acting, but this was the first time we'd seen him onstage. He was close to perfect in the role. Yvonne Mangrum also has an extensive stage and film resume, and it showed in her strength and assurance in the role of the Finch household's necessary and trusted servant.

What we saw, all in all, was well done and for the most part it was satisfying.

 That's one of the things about theater: the production can have all kinds of faults and yet still be an effective drama that moves an audience. And so it was with the Albuquerque Little Theatre's/Mother Road's "To Kill A Mockingbird."

I suppose one of the most remarkable things about it is that the story is as iconic a Southern story as has ever been written, and it celebrates "baby steps" of progress... But think about that "progress". The setting is rural Alabama, 1935. A "Negro boy," Tom Robinson -- who is married, with three children -- is accused of "crime" against a white woman, actually a teenaged girl, Mayella Ewell. The "good citizens" of the town (ie: white men) want him lynched and they try to accomplish that end, but Atticus Finch, Robinson's lawyer, and Atticus's daughter Scout prevent it. There is an actual trial of Tom Robinson -- which Atticus knows he will lose and says so. There was no way at the time for a jury -- an all white and all male jury, let it be known -- in the South to acquit a Negro of a "crime" against a white woman, no matter the facts and truth. Atticus's goal is not so much the acquittal of Tom Robinson, which he knows he cannot secure, but he vows that no matter what else happens, the truth will be known. He knows Tom Robinson is innocent without question. Atticus makes known the truth of his innocence at the trial.

Tom Robinson still must die, of course, for there is no way to gain his freedom in the South as it was, and he is shot while trying to escape from the prison farm while awaiting an appeal, an appeal which he knows he cannot win.

So what, exactly, are the "baby steps" here?

That Tom Robinson got a trial at all? That a prominent white attorney represented him? That an appeal of his conviction was lodged? That some white children learned to "wear another's skin?" Or that the truth was told in open court about what happened to Mayella Ewell -- that she had expressed her gratitude and even love to a black man, and that her father had been the one who beat and molested her?

Perhaps all of them together amounted to the "baby steps" Harper Lee was writing about. By 1935, lynching in this country was starting to fade out. In the South, it was largely due to activist (white) women engaged in anti-lynching crusades, town by town, person by person. By that time, thousands and thousands of Negroes had been lynched for crimes real and imagined, in a brutal terror campaign that had long sullied the reputation of the Solid South. Southern culture and peculiar ways? Well, if you want to call it that. But lynching was by no means confined to the South and its victims were by no means all black.

Lynching was a mob reaction common through much of the country and through much of its history. Practically anyone whose status was low enough could become a victim of lynch mobs, no matter where they lived or what their race.

It took herculean effort to overcome the mob reaction that led to lynching, and even now, it's far from extinct, though it is much more sublimated.

Tom Robinson stands for so many men and women -- and children, yes, children -- who were so cruelly used and died during the hey-day of Lynch-law in this country. We're still a long way from the ideals of dignity and justice that Tom and Atticus stand for and that Scout and Jem and Dill begin to learn during the course of the play.

But look how far we've come... and it is still a sin to kill a mockingbird.

[Atticus] would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning. -- last line of Harper Lee's novel...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ukrainia's "Prime Minister" Says -- for the Umpteenth Time -- "Putin Wants To Restore The Soviet Union!!!!™"



Would that be such a bad thing?

No, really.

Of course the idea is absurd on its face. Putin-Hitler/Stalin is not trying to restore the Soviet Union, not even in his dreams. He has no interest in reviving the failed experiments of his Soviet predecessors -- for the simple reason that those experiments faltered and finally failed badly enough that the whole Soviet enterprise collapsed from the deadweight.

Is it not obvious that he has no personal interest in reviving that?  He and the Russian people, as well as the many peoples that once constituted the Soviet Union, have too recently lived through that, know it was less than it was supposed to be, and have blazed a new-old path into the Future that is not like the Soviet Union at all.

It is more like the Future Peter the Great tried to guide the Russian Empire toward. More like Europe, less like Asia. And less, ever less, like the past.

"Yats," as he's known, has been parading around dutifully parroting the Neo-Con propaganda line that "Putin wants to restore the Soviet Union" every time the cameras are turned on him, as if this were some sort of magic talisman, the saying of which will protect him and his "government" in Kiev from their inevitable fate. The man has a look of utter terror on his face when he says it, too, as if someone just out of camera range were training a sniper-rifle on his head.

This ersatz "prime minister" in the Kiev rump "government" -- a government which controls nothing, not even its own parliament in Kiev where armed thugs from the various Right Sektor paramilitaries assert control over whether elected representatives will be allowed in the hall depending on their political loyalties -- has been saying the same thing about Putin-Hitler/Stalin from almost the day he arose as designated "kamikaze" PM back in February.

The propaganda machine back in the United States hailed and anointed him as their chosen one, as did the malefactors of great wealth in the EU.

Ukraine is and has been a basket case for its entire post-Soviet existence (something that could be said of practically any of the former Soviet Republics, but that's another issue altogether.) Its economy is a wreck thanks in part to an overload of Oligarchs plundering whatever they can loot, and its politics has been very stinky throughout the independence period. As odious as Yats and his gang are, there has never been a regime in Kiev that could be considered anything but as corrupt an outrage as his advent has been.

Europe is no paradise, either, as anyone with a lick of sense can easily see.

The Soviet Union had its own issues to be sure, but at least lip service -- and often certain practical service -- was provided on behalf of the working class. The whole point of the Yats Kamikaze regime is to get rid of whatever tatters are left of the Soviet social security provisions and hand whatever wealth remains in Ukraine -- after decades of Oligarchic looting -- over to the US, EU and IMF corporate and banking cartels.

That's it. That's the only point of all this hoo-hah in Kiev.

If Putin really wanted to "restore the Soviet Union" in this case, it would make sense to wish him well.

But he doesn't.

The charge that he does is insane. And this insanity is typical of Neo-Con propaganda.

The question would be -- if there were any reality to the fantasy that "Putin wants to restore the Soviet Union" -- "how exactly would that be a bad thing under the circumstances?"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ukrainian Lurch Into Madness Continues

Hello Soldier!

Furthermore, what fresh hell is this?

Given my druthers of course, the Ukrainian People would come out on top of the portentous events building on the Russian border, but the likelihood of its happening is about as strong as it was in Libya or Egypt or Syria or... well, you get the picture.

The People are not operating these events, and they have very little chance of taking charge as bit by bit, Ukraine is spiraled into madness to become yet another trophy on the neo-con/neo-lib Wall of Despair.

It's relentless and inevitable. Just as it was for the target regimes during the Bushevik reign of terror and despair. There is no escape. No succor. No relief from the ongoing tragedies.

Reports out of the various eastern sector locations where the Kiev coup-regime leaders have placed their troops to conduct an "anti-terrorist campaign" (save me), have varied from lethal clashes to outright humiliation by peaceful rebel/resistance activists. There have been sporadic reports of defection by Ukrainian troops to the cause of the resistance, but there is no way to tell, through the competing barrages of propaganda what is true and what is merely fluff.

The CIA's Brennan was in Kiev recently and apparently advised the rather bumbling coup-regime to step up its game, make a stand of some sort, force the issue if you will, against the pro-Russian resistance, but do it in a "measured" way.  "The covert war has begun..." Oh? Really? Begun? It's been going on for years.

I expect the death squads to be working overtime soon. There have been reports out of Russia that an American mercenary outfit called Greystone (an offshoot of the illustrious Blackwater mercs) has been deployed in the Eastern Sektor and has been doing some wetwork, but who knows. The denials are to be expected in any case. We are so used to this. We are so cynical.

And the People of Ukraine continue to suffer because they matter not at all, they are not even props any more. They are at best in the way. And observers worry that Putin-the-Great, as he might be styling himself, is being lured into a trap -- the upshot being the dismantlement of what's left of Russia. Could be.

I was going to write about David Graeber's take on why "austerity" -- which has arrived in Ukraine with a vengeance -- is so "accepted" by the massed rather than being resisted fiercely. But Ukraine has turned into something of a type-model for what he's pointing to. The People care "too much" for one another, whereas their governments and leaderships and the global master-classes care nothing for the People, not even to acknowledge them in most cases.

Ukraine is only one of many boiling pots of neo-con/neo-liberal bullshit on the globe today, but it may be the one that proves the case once and for all that the People play no role in the course of events.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ukraine Lies and Damned Lies

V Alupki︠e︡. Krym c. 1910 from the
Prokudin-Gorskii Collection 
Library of Congress


The lies and damned lies surrounding the Ukrainian situation -- and the wars and rumors of wars that go along with it -- are blood curdling. What are Our Rulers up to this time? Or as they say, "What fresh hell is this?"

I had intended to write about "caring," as elucidated by David Graeber in the Guardian several weeks ago, and countered by Suren Moodliar at Counterpunch and then given a sense of immediacy by Graeber as he Tweeted his eviction from his family's New York co-op apartment. It was all really quite a dramatic sequence.

But ultimately... what? Not irrelevant, it's more like so very personal given the ever more cacophonous saber rattles out of Ukrainia. WTF is going on, and to whose benefit might it be?

The sense of déjà-something-if-not-vu is powerful right now. We've been led down this bloody, wrong and deliberate path too many times in the past.

For whose benefit?


And this time Our Rulers think it will come out different?


It's wrong, dead wrong, every time.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Prodigal Returns -- Or Something

Earlier, I was looking for some kind of news regarding the much anticipated return of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras to New York to humbly receive their Polk Award for reporting the Young Snowden NSA material last summer, and surprisingly there was nothing but WikiLeaks live blogging their plane's travel across the Atlantic, blogging which ceased approximately half an hour before it landed.

I just checked online for any updates, and the most recent was from Le Monde.

Le journaliste Glenn Greenwald passe sans encombre la frontière des Etats-Unis

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Glenn Greenwald et Laura Poitras, deux des journalistes derrière les révélations sur l'Agence de sécurité nationale (NSA) américaine sont arrivés aux Etats-Unis, vendredi 11 avril. Venus à New York recevoir le George Polk Award, prix américain qui reconnaît l'excellence en journalisme, ils ont passé les contrôles de l'immigration à l'aéroport de New York sans problème, a annoncé Julie Turkewitz, journaliste pour le New York Times.

There you have it. Even if you don't read French, it's pretty clear they got through the tight security at JFK without incident.

Who'd a thunk, eh?

UPDATE: Paul Carr at Pando wants to know if the Intercept has ceased publishing. Hard to say that it's still publishing, as there has not been a new post for ten days or more, and even the comments stopped several days ago.

After the Poynter story about a strategic planning session -- involving unnamed principals, at an unannounced location, at some point in the unspecificed past -- during which discussion centered on First Look's focus and audience and so forth, the basics of any startup, let alone a "transformative" quarter-billion dollar media empire, quite late in the game it would seem, I wouldn't be surprised if retooling and potentially relaunch of the Intercept were in order.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

V. B. Price and David Correia on the APD

The DoJ report is a devastating indictment of a corrupt, bloodthirsty, maniacal police institution that is probably beyond redemption.

DoJ Press Conference on APD Findings


Out of Hand...

The DoJ report on the APD is to be released at a press conference in a couple of hours. I'm sure a lot of the findings will resonate with the public -- who have been telling the city fathers of Albuquerque that the police are out of control for years. They are considered to be a corrupt, murderous thug squad. How they got that way should be of interest to historians and cultural anthropologists. How the institution can be reformed without starting over is an open question.

Many American police departments have come under scrutiny by DoJ for various questionable institutional and cultural behaviors, and some, it would appear, have been more or less successfully "reformed." There has been a lot of talk and ferment in Albuquerque about the problems with APD and the far too frequent use of deadly force they have employed in the past three or four years, climaxing with the appalling shooting of James Boyd in the Sandia foothills on March 16.

Andy Redwine was shot and killed a couple of weeks later, also while he was surrendering, an anti-climactic incident in that the Boyd shooting had already become an indelible image of police misconduct, thanks to video that had gone viral around the world, and the Redwine shooting has not to this day been seen on police video, only on a grainy and distant witness video which is somewhat ambiguous regarding whether Redwine was armed with a gun or not at the time he was shot and killed by police.

Yesterday, however, the APD was called to an incident near a school where a man was "acting crazy" and firing a gun. Given what's been happening recently, one would expect APD to summarily execute this man and call it "suicide by cop," and one would expect the DA to call the police homicide "justified" -- because that has been the normal course of events for years.

But something else happened.

The police arrived and they de-escalated  the situation. They actually "talked him down," using well-known and easily understood tactics and methods that police departments all over the country, not just in Albuquerque, seem to have forgotten in their quest to enforce instant compliance and to "take out" every armed and unarmed but defiant perp everywhere, all the time.

In this case, they de-escalated successfully. The man put his gun down and surrendered. Proving, if any proof was necessary, the common-sensical fact that if given the opportunity, and if treated with a certain level of dignity and compassion, even people in the midst of a psychotic break, like this man may have been, can be convinced to lay down weapons and surrender.

Further, this incident helps to demonstrate that summary execution is generally not the correct response to people in distress, even when they are armed and threatening.

There have been a couple of officer-involved shootings as they're euphemistically called in our area out in the country well east of Albuquerque, one in which a man was killed by state police, the most recent when a man was wounded by local police.

The man who was killed was having a psychotic episode, firing his gun at all and sundry who came near his home (actually his parents' home; he lived with them.) The sheriff was on the phone with him and his parents were trying to negotiate with him from outside the home, but after several hours, they had not been successful. The sheriff called for back up by the state police and a SWAT team was dispatched. Still the man would not surrender and he kept firing from inside the house.

The sheriff and his parents kept trying to convince him to lay down his weapon and surrender. But then the man crossed in front of a window, and a state police officer shot him dead. The justification was that the man was firing at police. Whether that is true or not is unknown. But there is no doubt he had been firing his gun.

In the other more recent incident, the police say they received reports of a "suspicious vehicle" out in the country late at night, and they went to investigate. Exactly what constitutes a "suspicious vehicle" is not clearly known, but apparently, a landowner was concerned about a strange vehicle he found parked along or near his driveway and reported it to the police. His property had been burglarized in the past.

Police arrived and inspected the vehicle in question. They apparently found nothing amiss and were about to leave when the landowner began firing on them, attempting to disable their vehicles and prevent them from leaving. He did not know they were police but thought they were confederates of whoever the first "suspicious" vehicle belonged to.

The police returned fire, striking the landowner and wounding him. He retreated to a nearby home where he was apprehended and flown by helicopter to a hospital in Albuquerque where he is said to be recovering.

This incident, like many, was due to a misunderstanding. The landowner who was shot was the one who called the police in the first place. He was shot because he didn't know who had arrived to investigate the "suspicious" vehicle he had reported, and he tried to prevent whoever it was from leaving by firing at their vehicles. Apparently the police did not identify themselves when they arrived. Police vehicles are not necessarily identifiable as such on dark roads in the country in any case.

How do we deal with this stuff?

Obviously, "talking down" someone having a suicidal episode, even if they are armed and threatening, is preferable to the outrageous police tendency to shoot first, shoot to kill, and engage in force protection above all.

Compelling compliance on penalty of immediate execution for non-compliance has become a default position in too many cases, apparently by policy that has become almost universal among police forces, and this compulsion has led to hundred of people being shot and killed by police every year, thousands wounded.

The situation is out of hand in Albuquerque, but it's out of hand nearly everywhere.

Was it always so? Do we misremember times gone by? Are we just now noticing something that has been going on for a very long time?

Nearly twenty years ago I wrote a report on police brutality that focused on the physical violence used by police in Sacramento, CA, to brutalize individuals to force compliance. That's what was going on then, though there were some other issues as well. There were occasional police involved shootings, but they were not frequent, and they figured in the report only tangentially. Routine at the time were the all too frequent beatings administered as a kind of street justice or to force compliance.

The police brutality report led to some changes, including the institution of a police review board which had no authority but which did report on police complaints.

A question, though: Have these summary executions taken the place of routine beatings?

That's what I want to know.

And if so, why?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Class, Prejudice and Outrage in Albuquerque

I watched most of the evening's doings at the Albuquerque City Council meeting last night (on live video, not in person, as we are quite a ways out in the country and all). The meeting was primarily dedicated to hearing from citizens regarding their feelings about the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the recent events in which several individuals were killed by police, most notably James Boyd as he was surrendering up in the Sandia foothills after a several hour standoff. The video of that incident has gone viral around the nation and the world. It seemed to me that the Council was primarily interested in dealing with the public relations disaster that ensued, but, as I usually do, I gave the electeds the benefit of the doubt, as it seemed some of them were actually interested in hearing from the public whatever ideas they might have for correcting the situation.

However, it was pointed out very early that the Mayor had "an important meeting" elsewhere and so would not be attending this Council meeting. Interesting. Also, during the meeting, there was a statement from one of the public participants that the AP had just announced that the DoJ's long-awaited report on APD's actions would be released on Thursday. 

At some point, the newly installed -- and rather bumbling -- police chief, Gorden Eden, made an appearance at the back of the room, where apparently he stayed at least as long as I watched, until about 10pm.

The meeting was well attended -- a full house in the Council chambers (241 capacity), and many watching a live feed outside the room on the plaza in front of the government building and apparently in an overflow room as well. It was anticipated that there would be a large crowd for the meeting, and so there was, but from what I could tell, the numbers were not in the "thousands" as had been suggested by some advocates might attend. My estimate is around 500, but I wasn't there, so that's more a guess than I would like it to be.

Quite a few of the speakers were relatives of those who had been killed by police in Albuquerque over the years, and some reported on their own experiences in police custody. There were reports of incidents of police misconduct and brutality going back to the '60s and '70s, the upshot being that "this is nothing new," the APD has always been a sketchy outfit and brutal at best.

I don't know what to say about that. I'm not familiar with what went on in the more distant past, but I did a little research about the Roosevelt Park riots (1971), and indeed, what happened seemed so familiar considering what has been in the news lately. Except for one thing: Crowds don't seem to riot any more. Despite the chief's hyperbole about "mobs" at one of the protest demonstrations against police misconduct and brutality recently, there were no riots.

There were several references to police infiltration, misconduct and brutality during the anti-war protests in 2003, but none about police brutality toward (Un)Occupy demonstrations in 2011 and 2012.

Most of those who spoke were upset with police misconduct and excessive use of force and weapons in Albuquerque, though there were a few speakers who justified and supported practically anything the APD wanted to do. Some of them were current or ex-police officers. I noted that the defense of police actions -- such as the shooting of James Boyd which touched off this latest round of protests against the APD -- often pivots on definition of terms; keep re-defining "justified" for example, and you can justify anything at all. And that's what many police defenders do. Whatever the police do to civilians is "justified" by re-definition. It's bizarre, but it's what happens.

What was clear to me from the testimony last night was that class and prejudice enters into police actions so often as to be definitive. As one speaker pointed out, you don't hear about police shootings in the Northeast Heights. That's because they don't happen there, or in any of the well-off enclaves that dot the Albuquerque Metro area. The police shoot to kill in poor neighborhoods, and their targets are often young, poor white, black or brown men with sketchy backgrounds, often homeless, often struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues.

I believe one of the speakers pointed out that of the 23 men killed by police in the past four years, 11 were clinically mentally ill. There was little or no treatment available for many of them, little or no safety, little or no effort made to keep them out of trouble or out of the line of police fire.

Mental health care services and social services for Albuquerque's growing cohorts of poor, homeless, mentally ill, and substance abusers were broken or absent altogether, and the APD, when called on, too often used lethal force where there was little or no danger to themselves. They got away with it, too, because the men they shot and killed were "the least among us."

The killing of James Boyd was a last straw. He was well known to social service workers and to the police. Despite obvious need, there was no help for him. He was just being cycled between jail and homeless shelter, with occasional interludes at a mental health facility. But he was on his own much more than not, and he was shot and killed because he was trying to survive away from the people who had simply rejected him or couldn't offer him anything.

There are thousands of homeless in Albuquerque, many tens of thousands of poor people, many of them young or youngish, many barely getting by or desperate. These are the people the APD concentrates their force on, and these are the people they shoot and too often kill. Some have extensive criminal backgrounds, but often enough, they are "criminals" for being homeless, for being young, sassy, black or brown, or because they use drugs or get drunk.

The APD is trained to persecute these people. There was testimony from poor, homeless, brown and black people who went through "living hell" from the Albuquerque police because of their status, their color, their location.

It's a a prejudice the police are trained to act on.

And it's not just in Albuquerque.

As more and more Americans are forced into poverty by the endless recession, more and more Americans face this kind of gross prejudice by authority, prejudice based on status, or rather lack of it.

The outrage felt by so many Burqueños is based on long and in many cases very cruel experience. Many said they had been warning the council and the mayor's office for years about the dangerous behavior of the police, and they had been advocating reform after reform, but nothing was done. They were ignored. And now this.

There were a number of representatives of A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which has been in the forefront of police misconduct protests in Albuquerque. I haven't seen them on parade since the Anti-Iraq-War protests which they organized and implemented on an enormous but ultimately ineffective scale.

In concert with Anonymous, the members of the coalition who testified last night issued the following demands:

1) We demand an immediate takeover of APD by the D.O.J.
The recent outrageous and disgraceful shooting of James Boyd by the APD clearly demonstrates that the Chief of Police and his subordinate commanders are unable or unwilling to do anything to address the ongoing excessive use of force and disregard for human life by APD officers.  It is simply imperative that the D.O.J. step in immediately and assume control of APD in order to prevent further abuses.  Whether by consent decree, some type of federal receivership or otherwise, immediate D.O.J. intervention is critical.
2)  We demand authentic and verified citizen oversight of APD to include the authority over hiring and firing (and discipline) of APD leadership and officers.  Once again, the Chief of Police and his subordinate commanders have demonstrated a complete lack of authority/ability in supervising and, where necessary, disciplining and/or dismissing officers who continue to perpetrate abuses of force.  Over the last several years officers have learned that they are free to utilize excessive use of force and that their actions will always be determined justifiable.
3)  We demand the immediate arrest of the officers who participated in the shooting and killing of James Boyd, particularly the two identified shooters. These officers are entitled to the same constitutional protections we all have but they must be arrested and charged just as we ordinary citizens would have been had we surrounded and shot Mr. Boyd.
4)  We demand the immediate termination of Chief Eden.  Despite his assurances of appropriate discipline if and when necessary which he promised when he was appointed, the Chief has clearly shown that his tenure as police Chief is simply going to be more of the same business as usual when it comes down to justifying actions of his officers.  Different name, different face, same result.
5)  We further demand indictments of all officers who have been guilty of violating citizen rights.  
It is time to bring charges against all of the officers who have engaged in excessive use of force cases over the last several years and let them face the same charges and prosecution we would be facing.  Officers cannot be allowed to escape above the law simply because they wear a badge.  In fact, they should be held to a higher standard, not a lesser more lenient standard.
6) We demand the demilitarization of APD.  We have become dismayed and disgusted with the new, modern 'look' of our APD officers.  These officers appear to enjoy strutting about in their tough muscle cars and showing off their modern tactical weapons including high powered rifles, and assault type, almost military looking uniforms, including helmets and bullet-proof vests.  They seem to enjoy the opportunity to roll out their armed assault vehicles.  One recent event involved an officer who arrived late at a police scene and exclaimed that he was sorry he has arrived late and wasn't going to be able to try out his new toy "i.e. his assault rifle.
7)  We demand an increase of funding for social services including substance abuse prevention and treatment, preventing homelessness and an acknowledgement that each of us is entitled to housing, shelter and the peaceful enjoyment of our city.  A redirection of funding from police weaponry and tactical training to social services will certainly go a long way in reducing the confrontations between the police and the homeless in our City.  Similarly, substance abuse treatment will reduce the crime rate which leads to violent confrontations.
8)  We demand a new vigorous investigation of the APD hiring practices.  We hae learned that APD recently lowered minimum standards for new officers and is not requiring lateral transfers to undergo background checks and psychological exams.  This has resulted in a rash of 'reject' officers from other jurisdictions finding a home in APD.  There was a reason these rejects were let go by their departments.  How can we believe they will no longer be problem officers?
9)  We demand that access to deadly weapons by APD officers be dramatically reduced.  As mentioned in demand number 6 there is too much emphasis on more modern, more tactical weapons.  Officers place more and more emphasis on newer more deadly weapons.  This has resulted in more officer involved shootings and overkill where the victims are not just shot once or twice but multiple shots.
10) We demand authentic and verifiable policing that puts positive police-community relationships ahead of violent confrontation.  Clearly officers and citizens are both better served and safer when they can work together in collaborative rather than a confrontational fashion.  What has happened to 'community based policing?' This is a term we never hear anymore.
11)  We demand a non-police emergency response of trained mental health professionals and crisis negotiators who can be called upon at all encounters that carry the potential for possible use of deadly force.  Especially in situations like that which led to the killing of James Boyd, there was plenty of time to bring in trained crisis intervention personnel to help defuse rather than escalate the situation.
12)  We call upon those police officers who recognize the problem of the police violence to publicly support these demands.  In spite of the many problem officers within APD, we acknowledge those officers who are just as disgusted as we are with the outrage which have occurred.  We call upon these officers to stand up and be counted in taking a stand for sound and rational police practices designed to serve and protect the citizens.
13)  We demand that the city counsel adopt the Police Oversight Task Force's recommendations for police oversight immediately and without amendment or alteration. These recommendations are well thought out and reasoned approaches to the problems we are facing.  These recommendations must not be diluted or watered down so that they become ineffective.
14)  We demand immediate and ongoing medical evaluation of all APD officers to determine their mental fitness to carry a weapon and serve as a police officer.  As mentioned in demand number 8, we insist that APD reinstate previous screening procedures designed to identify and weed-out potentially problem officers.  These procedures are already in place, they have not been enforced during the last few years.
The council accepted the Police Oversight Task Force's report at last night's meeting, but what will become of it is anyone's guess. There have been many reports over the years, none have made much difference. The problem with the APD is inbred in its culture, and is reinforced by leadership. There were calls for the immediate resignation of the police chief and the mayor, but the council pointed out that the city's Chief Administrative Officer is actually the one who has authority over the police. Some called for his resignation as well, but the council was at some pains to assure the public that they had very little actual authority over the police and their conduct. They pointed out they only had policy and budget authority, not operations authority. Some wags responded that "policy and budget" are two of the chief ways to control the police department, but that seemed to go right over the council's head.

I was curious about whether this would be as raucous a meeting as I'd witnessed in Oakland, but it wasn't. It was far more polite.

But the mayor wasn't there, and the police chief stayed in the background. How it will all turn out remains to be seen.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nuclear Panaceas

This is something of an expansion on yesterday's post, which was itself more of a placeholder than a fully thought out piece. There were literally so many things swirling in my mind yesterday, like the whirlwinds on the Jornada de los Muertos, the Journey of the Dead, the name the Spanish conquistadores gave to the plain on which the Trinity Test took place.

"Other-worldliness" was very much a factor in the adventure. Even getting to the Site -- especially the slower-than-slow progress through the Stallion Range Gate -- was part of the Other World sense of it all. Once inside the gate, we passed by the site where I remember seeing ruins of temporary classroom and other buildings, fabric walled, torn to shreds, with desks and chairs and chalkboards still in them when I was there before, but now they were gone, just the platforms and concrete pads on which they stood still visible.

That reminded me somehow of a place near where I once lived in California. It had been a transit camp for Japanese internees, one that was quite notorious in its day. It once consisted of row on row of drab and dreary barracks into which the Japs (as they were known) were crammed until transport was available to haul them to their final camp at Tule Lake or Manzanar or wherever.

Apparently after the War, there had been a big fire, and all the hutments and barracks and latrines and whatnot had burned to the ground. The site had been abandoned and had pretty much returned to the wild. If the military or anyone else owned it, there was no sign.

However, though the buildings were gone, the concrete pads on which they stood were still there when I was living nearby (I was then about 12 or 13). And the pads were littered with charred wood and broken and fused glass, a lot of which was green. There were no artifacts that I can recall, though there might have been some basins or door knobs or what have you lost in the weeds that surrounded the pads and had grown up through the cracked asphalt that had once been roadways between the buildings.

I didn't know what this place had been for some time after I first explored the ruins. Then my mother told me. She knew. She'd been stationed at the air base not far from this site during the War. She knew what it was and what it was for because it was right there when she was stationed at the base (she'd joined the Women's Army Air Corps) and everyone on base knew why it was there and what it was for. It was the transit camp for the Japs -- both when they were headed out to the distant concentration camps and when they were finally allowed to return to what was left of their homes in 1945. In between times, the military had occupied the buildings as additional base housing.

At that time, I could barely imagine what had happened during the War, though talk about it and movies about it, and reminiscence about World War II were ever-present during my childhood. We often think about the Depression as being the formative social and cultural factor of 20th Century America, but it was actually World War II -- the War which changed everything.

My mother had been friends with a Japanese American farm family before the War, and briefly, once they were rounded up for the concentration camps, she had taken care of their farm, hopeful that they would not be away for very long. But the farm was much more than she could handle, and when she heard that they would be gone "for the duration," she turned its care  over to an Anglo neighbor who was not particularly friendly with the family who was sent to Manzanar or Tule Lake or one of the other internment camps.

Soon thereafter, she joined the Women's Army Air Corps, she found herself stationed near where the Japanese American family had been held before they were taken to wherever it was they were going.

Photo by Dorothea Lange, May, 1942, Japanese American family being escorted to their barracks at a transit camp for internees
These were quite miserable shelters, not even up to standards of chicken coops, which is what my mother had called them. "Not fit for human beings". She said that what had happened to these people was an outrage, completely uncalled for. And she blamed a single individual for it: Earl Warren, in 1942 California Attorney General, who was the force behind the forces that sent the Japs to the concentration camps. He was the one who demanded it incessantly, went to Washington and got the orders from the President that put the whole dreadful business into motion. Earl Warren, who would become governor. He had ambitions, didn't he? It was easy to pander to the prejudices of California's Anglo population. And Warren was no slacker when it came to pandering...

But after he was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Eisenhower, he changed. 180°, almost. Brown vs Board of Education in 1954 started a process of anti-Jim Crow and civil rights legislation and court findings that would transform the deep racial animosities and other prejudices held by so many Americans into... something else. They're not gone, not by a long shot, but they no longer hold such sway over American society and sense of justice.

Well, not like they once did at any rate.

After we passed by the pads and platforms of the no longer present temporary buildings inside the Stallion Gate on the way to Trinity Site, I spotted something reddish-brown by the side of the road. I couldn't make out what it was until we were passing right beside it and I saw the ribs sticking up: OMG, it was a cow, the carcass of a cow which had apparently perished right beside the base road and whose innards had been consumed by ravens and buzzards and coyotes and whatnot, leaving only hide and bone...

A cow? How did a cow get there? This was on base, and so far as I know, they don't run herds there. There are wild animals and hunting is permitted from time to time, but there are no cattle... are there? Maybe it got through the fence somehow and found itself unable to return to its own herd outside the boundary and perished from... lack of water? The sparseness of the forage? Loneliness? What had happened? I couldn't imagine, but I could easily imagine the presence of the cow was never even noticed by base personnel until it was too late, and then, with no orders to move it from beside the road, it was simply left to the coyotes and ravens and buzzards to deal with...

Much further on down the road, where turned off the main road to get to Trinity Site itself, there were a couple of camouflage tent-like structures near the intersection, somewhat resembling duck blinds, full of electronic equipment and a solitary soldier sitting forlorn inside them. Hum. What could they be? Beside these little tents there were bristling antennae and other sorts of gimcracks of no identifiable purpose, and I wondered, "Are they monitoring wildlife or our own selves as we head ever further into the base?" Were they monitoring our cell phones (which didn't work, by the way -- there wasn't even car radio reception on most of this journey of the dead... ) or our movements? We were ordered not to deviate off the road during our trip to Trinity Site and not to take pictures anywhere on base but at Trinity Site itself. But we saw some vehicles pull off the road here and there and saw people taking pictures where they were ordered not to. There are, after all, bunkers and other artifacts of the Trinity Test along the way to the Site, but I noticed the signs and placards that once identified them weren't maintained and no longer had legible contents.

Unlike formerly, too, at the Site itself, there were no longer any buses out to the restored McDonald Ranch where the Gadget had been assembled (though the nuclear core was inserted right under the tower where it would be hoisted up and detonated on July 16, 1945.) I had missed going to the McDonald Ranch due to time constraints when I visited the Site in 2010 and I had hoped to go this time, but a sign at the Gate said that the McDonald Ranch house was "temporarily closed" for reasons unstated.

Where the Gadget was assembled 

I wanted to go out there (it's about 2 miles from the test site) partly because one of the pioneer houses nearby our own is practically identical. It's a typical style of New Mexico homesteaders and pioneers near the turn of the 20th Century but you'd never know it existed because it doesn't fit the architectural "Style" imposed in Santa Fe and common elsewhere in New Mexico, thanks to Carlos Vierra and his friend John Gaw Meem.

Ah, but no. Not this time. Maybe next time, maybe not. There are houses like this and ruins of houses like this all over New Mexico, pioneer houses that were built of adobe and roofed with corrugated iron (called "tin") with tall, narrow windows and rough stone walls around them, built when the area was opened for homesteading around the turn of the 20th Century. Many are abandoned, as the pioneer ranch house we live in had been abandoned, because it is just too difficult to make a living out on the llano in New Mexico. The weather is too wild and unpredictable, the water is too scarce, the struggle for living too intense. It's hard to settle down and remain. The Native peoples long ago knew this, and they thought perhaps the Spanish and later the Anglos who went out in the desert and high plains to raise their livestock and to grow their crops and to build their towns were a bit mad. Or maybe they were a lot crazy. They may have had a few good years and then the droughts and the winds and the harshness of the land and the tiring work of bare survival drove them out.

Their ruins are everywhere.

The 'Gadget' on the tower before the Trinity Test, 1945 (Los Alamos National Laboratory picture)
One of the tower's stanchions after the test

And that's part of what Trinity Site represents in a less personal way. The McDonalds, at whose ranch house the Gadget was assembled, left -- they say "evacuated under protest" -- when the military took over the site for the Alamagordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in 1942, less than thirty years after the ranch was built. The house sat abandoned until the Trinity test was decided on in 1945.

Afterwards, the place was abandoned again and left to ruin until its restoration in 1984.


McDonald Ranch House, 1974

It is said that the reason for the Trinity Test was to see whether a plutonium implosion bomb would work or not. The Little Boy uranium bomb along with several mockups had been shipped to Tinian Island in the Pacific before the test of the Gadget, and shortly after the Trinity Test, the components for the Fat Man bomb (of which the Gadget was an example of its interior) were flown to Tinian from Kirtland Field, and were assembled on Tinian for use on Nagasaki.

The stated reason for the Trinity Test was scientific, but the actual use of the bombs on Japan was political, both to accelerate the surrender of Japan, and to demonstrate to the Soviets that the United States was prepared to... what, exactly? Do anything?

The idea, obviously, was to instill fear in any potential enemy such as the Soviet Union -- already designated the Enemy of the Moment after the capitulation of Nazi Germany -- of what the United States was capable of and willing to do in pursuit of its national/international interests. While many of the nuclear scientists involved in the creation of these weapons advised against their use on human populations preferring that demonstration detonations be utilized instead, the politics of war then -- and perhaps now -- insisted that only the actual use of these weapons against the Enemy himself would be effective. It's the principle of the only thing these people understand... that we heard all the time during the Afghanistan and Iraq misadventures, and which was a typical perspective regarding "The Enemy" through all the Cold War "police actions."

Burning them alive was considered to be a highly appropriate way of Enemy extermination and disposal, especially in the Pacific and Japan during the later stages of World War II. Firebombing was used in Europe as well, but the results -- in Hamburg and Dresden especially -- seemed far too much like the results of the Nazi concentration camps' efforts to dispose of the super abundance of dead bodies that accumulated toward the end of the war.

On the other hand using flamethrowers against Japanese soldiers was considered a kind of sport, and the firebombings of Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama were celebrated as particularly appropriate punishment for the Japs. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in these pre-nuclear bombings, whereas the total number of casualties from the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is thought to be just over 120,000. The point was that these incinerations took only one bomb each, whereas hundreds of bombs were necessary to obliterate other Japanese cities. Efficiency! American know how!

During the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait in 1991, American forces unleashed a grotesque bombing raid on what is known as the Highway of Death. Thousands of retreating Iraqis were incinerated in that episode, but there were many other incidents in which the US blasted civilian targets as well, most notably on a bomb shelter in Baghdad, in which several hundred civilians were slaughtered.

All this, of course, was long ago. Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy were once seen -- or at least promoted -- as panaceas for a troubled world and suffering mankind, the bombs to "keep us safe," and the nuclear plants to provide us with "unlimited energy." Neither has quite worked out as promised. The bombs don't keep us safe, and nuclear energy is a chimera at best. There is no known way to maintain the radioactive waste products produced, and there is no way to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants in any event.

The nuclear demons unleashed at Trinity Site almost 70 years ago still haunt us and the world in general. Some still believe that enough people could survive a nuclear holocaust to make it worthwhile to consider -- or at least an interesting experiment.

J. Robert Oppenheimer Manhattan Project lead scientist saw it differently:

I'm with Oppie on this.

We'll meet again, I'm sure... in spirit if not in the flesh...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Out and About -- Again

Microseconds of the Trinity Test

Went out to Trinity Site yesterday. Because it was the only time the site would be open this year, there were larger than usual crowds, and it took close to an hour (maybe longer, come to think of it) to get cleared at the Stallion Gate.

Trinity Site, as I've written before, is a secular pilgrimage site in New Mexico, the site of the world's first atomic bomb explosion. One goes there to pay respects, not just to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who were incinerated at the end of World War II by the two atomic bombs dropped on their country, but to the malevolent powers that were unleashed and which still haunt the world -- and haunt New Mexico in particular. I've said there is no place on earth outside Japan where the nuclear issue is so profound and profoundly moving as in New Mexico, as current and contemporary today as it ever was.

After arriving at the parking lot, I had to strategize actually getting to the site more than a quarter mile away and then getting back, as I am still lame from an episode of sciatica in January. So I got a seat-cane for the expedition, with the thought that if I were able to sit down during the trek, I'd probably be able to make it without too much trouble. (There is a transport for the old and lame from the parking lot to the site gate, but I decided to forgo it in order to test whether I could make it on my own.) Sure enough, the cane itself was sufficient to keep me appropriately propped up and walking, and I didn't have to sit on the way to or from the monument. Yay! Simple victories.

The April weather was a challenge, though. We'd been warned there might be rain, but instead, there was virga and many downdrafts which raised whirlwinds and clouds of dust and sand that got into everything. I found my wallet was full of sand and dust when we stopped for a late lunch after leaving the site. One man fell face first into the dirt in front of the monument when a gust caught him by surprise, and others were dumbfounded by the whipping whirlwinds and clouds of sand and dust pummeling them in the face. Nevertheless, the site is spectacular, and the winds and clouds added to the spectacle.

The site was essentially identical to what it had been in 2010 when I was there on my own. But this was the first time for Ms Ché, and she was quite taken with it. She and I grew up in a world in which nuclear power was seen as a panacea for practically everything that ailed mankind -- while the specter of nuclear annihilation loomed over us every single day.

Trinity Site is where that specter originated.

Yesterday's adventure there was made all the more dramatic by the dramatic weather knocking us and everyone else around so much.

After a brief return home to clean up, we headed back to Albuquerque to attend a fundraiser for the National Institute of Flamenco whose home base burned last February December. The program included 9 regional dance companies each of which performed one or two numbers to a wildly enthusiastic response by the full house at the Disney Theatre of the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

There were many highlights, but one that will stay with us for a good long time was the performance of Sonia Olla and Ismael Fernandez who demonstrated -- as if there were any doubts -- what this "flamenco" thing is all about. It was brilliant. But then, so was practically everything at the event. 

It was yet another day and night to remember, and yet another "Only in New Mexico" experience.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Out And About

We were up in Santa Fe yesterday to meet with a friend who's been involved with IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts) from the beginning (and who has so much to teach us youngsters!) and to attend an evening dress rehearsal for "When the Stars Trembled in Rio Puerco" (we are partial funders for the production.)

Meanwhile in Albuquerque, things to do with the several murderous rampages of the APD and the various Justice Department investigations thereof seem to have come some kind of a head.

There was a well-attended candlelight vigil at the spot where James Boyd was gunned down in the Sandia Foothills, despite the hysterics of the local media and fire department because of the winds and the dry conditions which might have been a valid concern if people were setting fires rather than carrying protected-flame candles at a vigil for a man who was cruelly gunned down by a seriously out of control death squad whose kill-instinct was on hyper-drive. After such a long stand off, they simply had to act, right? Right?

Of course the shooting by US Marshals in the South Valley the previous morning (or was it yesterday morning, one loses track) was one of those "split second" things that you hear about all the time, no standoff, merely a matter of a refusal to immediately surrender -- to apparently unbadged agents who didn't identify themselves, but who merely pointed weapons and demanded instant compliance, and when it wasn't immediately forthcoming, started firing, striking the suspect in the head. He wasn't killed, though, so there's that.

The mayor came out at a press conference yesterday at which he announced some reforms of the APD (long overdue) and requested that the DoJ be forthcoming regarding its years-in-the-making report on APD's behavior and culture. He's apparently been informed through backchannels that the APD will be assigned a federal reform/compliance monitor, and he wants to know -- now -- just what will be required by the Feds and at what cost.

[Trouble doing links today, will try to fill in later...]

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Moar Uproar in 'Burque -- Tipping Point for APD?

I expected to hear more about the police-abuse-and-murder protests in Albuquerque yesterday, but there wasn't much in the news. There was a meeting at the Peace and Justice Center near the University, however, at which further strategies were discussed.

Nevertheless, the news yesterday was dominated by the protests on Sunday, and the reporting struck me as confused at best. The problem, of course, is that local media is everywhere deeply tied into the police and power structure, so it's difficult to report on matters affecting the police without falling into the typical support-the-police (whatever they do) mode.

The recent police killings of civilians in Albuquerque, however, have made that position less and less tenable. The killing of James Boyd was shocking to the conscience. There was no reason to shoot or wound him, let alone to kill him, and the release of the helmet-cam video made that abundantly clear. In the case of the shooting death of Andy Redwine on March 24th, the situation was less clear. According to police, Redwine was armed and firing a revolver at the police, but witnesses are divided on whether that is true or not. According to the one video which shows the shooting, Redwine was talking on the phone at the time he was shot, his other arm was down by his side, and it is impossible to tell whether he was armed or not.

Police have been known to lie, after all, and some of the witnesses claim that Redwine was not armed when he was shot and that he never fired at the police or anyone else during the confrontation. His family, is devastated.

The Boyd killing touched off a firestorm of controversy. The new police chief has a habit of inflaming the situation, at first calling the killing "justified," then backing off that assessment, then just yesterday, referring to the protesters as a "mob." The mayor has tried to maintain a sense of proportion and dignity, expressing how "appalling" he felt the killing of Boyd was, but reserving judgement on whether the killing was "justified" until there is a full "investigation." The Governor has thrown in her two cents, turning over evidence to the Justice Department.

V. B. Price is a long-time commentator on things New Mexico and particularly things 'Burque. He wrote a blog-post yesterday that sums up the situation rather well. I'll quote a bit from it:

Trained to See Some People as Scum that ain’t Worth the Trouble

If James Boyd had been a bear they would have shot him with a tranquilizer dart.
But Boyd was a different kind of animal. The police had been trained, it appears, to see him as a piece of trash, as vermin, as scum not worth the trouble to subdue.
And it’s all on video. A new snuff film from the Albuquerque Police Department. A minute or two of what the poet C.R. Lloyd called “pornographias del muerto.”
Watching it can be a nightmare experience, a peep hole into the Devil’s World.  I felt obliged to view it numerous times, so I could be as accurate as possible writing about it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Such horrendous, gratuitous violence. It could have been a training film for how to be cowardly bullies.
It comes down to this. Six or so Albuquerque police officers and one 38 year old homeless hobo in the foothills of the Sandias. He had a history. Police said they thought he was a paranoid schizophrenic. He is said to have been obnoxious with the police before and once he reportedly broke the nose of a female police officer. And now he was disturbing the neighbors by camping illegally in the foothills.
And that’s what it takes to get unofficially executed in Albuquerque. No death row here. We prefer instant injustice.
It's true about bears in the Sandias. They're tranquilized and hustled off to new quarters. Not homeless men, though.

Not them.

Not yet.

But there is movement to end the official summary execution scheme. Additional mental health provisions are among the current suggestions.

Abolishing APD may be necessary, however.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Uproar in Albuquerque

We were in town yesterday but we missed this because we were attending other events and didn't take Central or I-25 on our way out of town. So we didn't find out what was going on until we saw the news on teevee.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

About That Bailout for Ukraine?

We've been hearing rumblings since before the overthrow of Yanukovych last February that the IMF/EU would be delighted to refinance Ukraine's debts on favorable terms -- provided Ukraine adopts severe austerity measures like those of Greece -- or even twice as harsh as the terms imposed on Greece.

Yanukovych was overthrown in large measure because he refused to accommodate those terms -- once he fully understood what those terms meant. The problem with negotiating EU/IMF bailout terms is that the actual terms are not disclosed until the moment comes for signing the documents. And then, oh my goodness. The terms are much harsher, the consequences for not abiding with them are much more severe, and the determination of the EU/IMF negotiators to have their way, no matter what, is shocking.

Yanukovych was expected to sign away Ukraine's patrimony and sovereignty at the Vilnius conference last November, but he balked, said "No!" and turned to Russia for aid. Russia offered a much better deal on terms that did not unduly interfere with either Ukraine's sovereignty or the welfare of its people. Compared to IMF/EU demands for harsh and immediate austerity measures on the people of Ukraine in exchange for a "bailout" that required extremely harmful and unpopular economic "reforms," (reforms that potentially included some "good" measures along with the bad) the Russian deal allowed a much more moderate economic transition and the integration of Ukraine's economy with those of the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union -- apparently as well as that of the EU, but on terms that would protect Ukraine's people from the abuses so customary from the EU toward the Periphery.

The anti-Yanukovych demonstrations in Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine began immediately when Yanukovych refused to sign in Vilnius, as if they had been organized prior to the conference. What struck me about the research I did into New Citizen and Center UA, the NGOs Pierre Omidyar funded in Ukraine, was the fact that the dozens of orgs under them, some of which, in turn, were umbrellas for dozens or even hundreds of other NGOs and individuals, like Russian matryoshka dolls, was their obsessive focus on EU integration and 'education' (propaganda) on behalf of Europe. This was a long term project. Some of the orgs and NGOs had been promoting the EU cause in Ukraine for decades, since independence from the Soviet Union. Many of the orgs were focused on youth, which meant that over the decades, Ukrainians grew up knowing little or nothing besides pro-EU propaganda.

Many of the NGOs under New Citizen and Center UA's wing (New Citizen is a "project" of Center UA, which appears to be the master org) were also funded by NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and USAID (US Agency for International Development), both of which are considered CIA fronts, though NED has so far been able to abjure the label and claim independence from CIA control.

My point has never been that the US precipitated the revolt in Ukraine against Yanukovych. If it had, I don't think the rightists in this country would be parading around screaming about "weakness." Instead, it looks like there was a coalition of pro-EU interests in Ukraine who were prepared to go to the streets should the Yanukovych regime balk at EU/IMF demands for austerity and other "reform" measures. Up to the point of the Vilnius conference, the Yanukovych government had been working closely with the EU and IMF toward the goal of European integration. There was very little indication prior to Vilnius that Yanukovych would balk and take the Russian offer.

For its part, the US seems to have been most concerned with the US corporate sector and its interests in exploiting the resources of Ukraine. I haven't written much about that, but there were and are major US corporate interests involved in the Ukrainian issue, some of which are highlighted in the triumphal Vicky Nuland-Kagan video posted previously. But there are many more. A number of people have looked into the corporate interests involved in Ukraine's current unpleasantness, and they read like a who's who of American corporate greed. While their corporate interests are being protected and fostered by the US government, they do not appear to be the ones who precipitated the revolt. The revolt seems to have arisen locally if not spontaneously, driven by the many EU integration currents fostered by the multiplicity of NGOs -- hundreds and hundreds of them -- which had been promoting EU interests in Ukraine for many years.

Now that the interim "government" of Yatsenyuk has signed onto the IMF/EU "reform" demands, some of the details of just what is being provided and required are coming out, and it is becoming clear what a duplicitous two-step has been underway all along.

According to the UK Telegraph, what the deal amounts to is paying off Russian banks and Western hedge fund creditors at 100% while forcing increasingly dire levels of austerity on the Ukrainian people, austerity measures that will lead to misery and despair, death and depopulation, much as happened in Latvia, and much more severe than the measures imposed on Greece. The fact that Russian banks and US and European hedge funds are being paid off at the expense of Ukraine's people is interesting and gives a clue to the thinking behind the various maneuvers that have taken place.

The claim is made that Yanukovych absconded with tens of billions (up to $70 billion) in his flight from Kiev, and that's why such severe measures are "necessary" to prevent Ukraine's economic collapse. Yet prior to the overthrow of Yanukovych -- and his alleged theft of funds -- the same measures were being demanded.

In other words, the issue of how much has been "stolen" by the Ukrainian oligarchs and the Yanukovych government is beside the point. The money which is being offered by IMF and EU (which includes a little bit from the US) has nothing to do with that issue. It's propaganda to say it does, propaganda that is supposed to make Ukrainians more compliant with their suffering now by blaming Yanukovych for it.

It seems to me that Yatsenyuk's belligerence during this period is also part of a propaganda campaign to ensure popular submission to these highly destructive measures being imposed by the IMF and EU, and to ensure that the resource exploitation by American and EU companies is not interfered with. 

And if I'm reading the beads right, Russia has no problem with any of this as long as their interests and oligarchs get paid. Jesus, what a cockup.

Quite a show when you think about it.