Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The New Normal: This Is The Way The World Works... Now

The Ukrainian Thing seems to have stalled for the moment, as the mighty troops sent to smoke out the terrorists holding those public buildings in the Eastern Sector have an annoying tendency to run away or get caught by the refusniks. It would be funny if this were some fictional place in Mittel Europe pre-WWII, and the Marx Brothers made a movie about it.

Oh wait.

But it's the real thing. Insofar as these things are ever "real" -- in the sense that ordinary people and/or the high and the mighty can ever know fully what is really going on and the consequences thereof... it's real enough. People are being shot and killed and kidnapped and manhandled and otherwise being put through the wringer -- one that looks very much like gangland behavior under chaotic, ruthless, and lawless conditions. Everybody has their stick, their bat, their AK-47, their new camo uniform, their balaklava...

At least there are some productive uses for all the old tires in Ukrainia. Wouldn't want them to go to waste.

Meanwhile, the posturing by the principals goes on and on and on and on, in a kind of dance or minuet, something we haven't seen in quite this way since the run up to the tragedies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because the principals are behaving now very much the way they did then -- though they say that they have taken military adventuring off the table and they are clearly trying to fight an old-fashioned proxy war through their surrogates on the ground in Ukrainia -- people everywhere are nervous as heck. No doubt the survivalists are stockpiling even more goods for the ultimate End of Times they sincerely believe is so soon to come.

This is all dangerous as heck, given the fact that the Superpowers are involved, the nuclear armed states, the Global Terror States of times gone by, when only they, the USA and the Soviet Union, had nukes and were brandishing and rattling them at one another...

So it is once again... except... for something. Something has changed.

Oh, that's right. One of the Superpowers, the other one, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. And its successor, the Russian Federation ("Russia") is a pale shadow of its former incarnation. A picked apart pale shadow of what it once was at that, ringed with hostile and in some cases competitive independent states aligned with, often hosting the military of, the vaunted "West" -- led by the USofA. So... what's this all about?

I've pointed out several times now what I think is going on, really going on, and though I haven't gotten much into why (the Global Great Game interests me less than its consequences to the ordinary people on the ground), I have little doubt that what's happening is the result of a Game-play that went wrong. It's "real" in that real people are being made to suffer for the forced and unforced errors of their Betters (as always, no?) and it's "real" in that the capture by the EU of the EU's Eastern Partnership nations (Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia) is a fundamental policy objective.

Regardless of what happened in Kiev, in other words, the EU, NATO and the US would have been pursuing policy goals to capture ever more territory and peoples from the orbit of the Russian Federation. It's apparently hard-wired into the EU's self-conception as technically assisted by the US.

Russia, for its part, has not been able to resist, and really hasn't resisted until now. Even now, the Russian resistance is more guerrilla-esque than military. What happened in Vilnius last November -- and its consequences in Kiev -- seems to have taken the Kremlin by as much surprise as it did in Brussels, Berlin, London and Washington.

Yanukovych was apparently expected by all parties to sign the Integration Agreement he was presented with at the Vilnius Conference of the EU's Eastern Partnership on November 29, 2013, and he refused. They say that he saw the actual terms of the agreement for the first time at that meeting, on the last day of the meeting, and he balked. Those terms -- which I seem to have misplaced the link to for the moment -- were devastating to the Ukrainian people, forcing them ever further into poverty, and they basically turned over the very fragile sovereignty of Ukraine to unelected technocrats and strategic wonks at the IMF, the European Central Bank, and NATO. Under the terms Yanukovych was presented, Ukraine would effectively become a colonial possession of the EU and NATO.

He was expected by all concerned -- including the Kremlin, apparently -- to sign away what limited patrimony Ukraine had in order to receive an economic package from the EU/IMF that would primarily benefit Ukraine's Russian creditors. Shockingly, he said no.



Almost immediately protests and demonstrations formed in the Maidan Square in Kiev, somewhat patterned on the Color Revolution/Occupy model (with some interesting and important differences), and Yanukovych's government was subjected to typical subversion and destabilization tactics that have long been employed by "Color Revolutionists" in Eastern Europe and around the world. Occupy never used those tactics, which may be a clue to why Occupy never overthrew any government. It wasn't trying to. That wasn't its purpose. But overthrow and replacement of governments was very much a part of the main objective of Color Revolutions, including the "Orange Revolution" that had occurred in Kiev in the winter of 2004-2005.

Yanukovych had messed with his masters in Brussels, Berlin, London, Washington -- and Moscow, apparently -- and he had to go, one way or another.

And so it would be. The Maidan Model included a level of violence that had not been seen in these Color Revolutions previously, a truly shocking level of violence culminating in shadowy and unknown snipers firing on the crowds assembled at the square. Prior to that still mysterious event, however, the police had been routinely firebombed with Molotov cocktails, and armed and violent gangs of fascists and Nazis (yeah, the real thing) had patrolled the perimeters and enforced "discipline" on the crowd and they periodically stormed and took over government buildings in the center of Kiev and in other towns in Western Ukraine.

Much of what is being done in the East now is based quite closely on the Maidan Model, albeit with the absence of the large crowds of demonstrators that were typical of the Maidan protests. The difference has to do, I'm sure, with the fact that the crowds in Kiev were fired on by those snipers... the same could easily happen to large crowds elsewhere. It has happened in other cases.

Snipering the crowds of protestors was typical of the 2013 post-coup Cairo Model of dispersing demonstrators; they were shot at, and many were killed or wounded, by snipers strategically emplaced around the pro-Morsi demonstrations. So it would be in Kiev as well. This tactic tends to limit the number of demonstrators who will turn out... it also has an effect on who and what demonstrators will support.

The coup-regime in Kiev, as it's called, has agreed to the terms that the EU/IMF/NATO et al tried to impose on the Yanukovych government, with the proviso, apparently, that the funding not go to Russian creditors, only to EU creditors. Interesting.

When Yanukovych balked in Vilnius, Russia -- specifically Putin -- was blamed, though it's not at all clear that Putin engineered the last-minute refusal by Yanukovych to sign on the dotted line. Russia had offered a different deal to Ukraine, but its terms were only slightly less onerous and exploitative. The issue seemed to be one of a tug-of-war between the EU and RF for Ukraine's future. The people were not to be consulted. They were simply to be led. In whichever direction the leadership and elites (in this part of the world, read: "Oligarchs") wanted to go.

Apparently, Yanukovych wanted to blaze his own path, and thought he could do it best under Russian aegis.

Well, that didn't work out.

In other words, Yanukovych's refusal triggered a cascade of unanticipated events that no only led to his overthrow and ouster and the installation of an EU/NATO approved coup-regime in Kiev, but to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and the stalemate now in place on Ukraine's eastern borders, which stalemate could lead to some kind of nuclear exchange between the EU/US/NATO -- out of sheer incompetence if not strategy.

I say these were not anticipated events, in part because most of it looks to be ad hoc, even the Maidan protests that were clearly rather carefully organized and remarkably well presented via professional public relations efforts. The preparations for the Maidan protests had clearly been made in advance and were carried out as efficiently as possible, but there were so many uncoordinated aspects of it that didn't fit the pre-conceived and arranged pattern of these sorts of things. The enormous stage and the demagoguery  that was conducted from it seemed to me to be one of those ad hoc rather than pre-planned arrangements. Even the snipering that climaxed the demonstrations seemed to be ad hoc rather than pre-planned. The use of Nazis and fascists as shock troops may well have come about spontaneously.

In other words, while the demonstrations and assemblies seemed pretty well planned in advance (if, for example, the Yanukovych government refused some aspect of the EU integration agreements) the fact that he refused the whole thing was the surprise, and the response became much more spontaneous, vigorous -- and violent -- than was anticipated.

I've pointed out that the ground was laid long before the uprising by the hundreds of "educational" and "democracy" NGOs that had been operating in Ukraine for decades before the Maidan protests. Many of them were dedicated to EU "integration" -- and that has been the focus of the Kiev coup-regime ever since they seized power in February.

The coup-regime was allowed to seize power, however. They didn't have the means or authority to seize it on their own. Yanukovych's flight from Kiev seems to have been arranged by the Kremlin, a flight which enabled the almost immediate installation of a pre-selected group of financiers, technocrats and Nazi-bullies to rule. But it couldn't have happened if Yanukovych hadn't fled. That he did so under a Russian wing indicates to me that the Kremlin was OK with his overthrow, and indeed may have been behind it. (He was, after all, a bumbler at best.)

What the Kremlin is not OK with is the EU/NATO/US take over of Ukraine without recognition of Russian national interest. The fact that the Kiev coup-regime and its backers deny there is a legitimate Russian interest in Ukraine is the key flashpoint which can -- especially through the incompetence of the elites involved -- lead directly to severely unpleasant consequences, such as an unfortunate nuclear exchange.

The partition and dismemberment of the Russian Federation is one of those long term projects of the ruling class in the West that won't soon be accomplished and won't soon go away. Russia is to be eliminated as a major global influence and power according to long-standing neo-conservative principles. Once that's accomplished, then China.

These are insane principles, but they're now the New Normal.

It's the way the world works.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Southwest Allure at the New Mexico Museum of Art

George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925), Santuario de Chimayo, 1917, oil on canvas, 19 1/8 x 23 1/4 inches, Collection of Judy and Lee Dirks, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The New Mexico Museum of Art has a wonderful collection of works by members of the Santa Fe Art Colony, as would make sense, given the fact that the current museum (opened in 1917) was intentionally created for the purpose of exhibiting works by locally and regionally based artists and encouraging an active art and cultural life in Santa Fe.

The current exhibit of paintings called "Southwestern Allure: The Art of the Santa Fe Art Colony", however, features works that were assembled by Dr. Valerie Ann Leeds for the Boca Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida, and were most recently exhibited by the Mennello Museum of American Art near Orlando, Florida.

For me, this is a fascinating journey. Though I'm now living in New Mexico, Florida was one of my working stops during extensive travels in the Show Business, and my memories of Florida, from the steam-bath heat of the place that hit me like a sledgehammer when deplaning in Tampa to the glorious sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, to the wild times among the back country rednecks who never let you forget that Florida is in the South (oh, golly) are some of the strongest I still have.

That a Florida museum would be responsible for assembling an extraordinary exhibit of Santa Fe Art Colony works is not as strange as it may seem, though it did strike me as odd when the New Mexico Museum of Art first sent an announcement of the upcoming exhibit of Santa Fe Art Colony works to replace the appallingly embarrassing "50 Works for 50 States." The Museum more or less permanently exhibits a rather sparse sample of their extensive collection of New Mexico artists' works, but I've been told that they have far more works in storage that are rarely if ever exhibited, and over the years, they've sold off much of what they once had in order to purchase other works by non-Southwest artists and expand their collections into more commonplace and typical realms.

A big part of what brought me to New Mexico and keeps me here are the artists and the full immersion in the arts that is almost everywhere you turn in the state... except, interestingly, in the Empty Quarter where we live. Oh, there are artists, plenty of them, in the region and round about, but there is very little sign of it on the surface, unlike the case in Santa Fe and Taos and some of the other places in New Mexico where art is conducted and practiced on an industrial scale.

As I've written before, the industrial scale arts in New Mexico originated with an energetic little Californian named Carlos Vierra, who, after a sojourn in New York as an illustrator, became ill with tuberculosis and relocated to New Mexico for the cure. Unfortunately, he got worse where he first landed at a curative camp along the Pecos, and he wound up transferring to St. Vincent's Hospital in Santa Fe, where shortly, almost miraculously, he was pronounced well.

He bought a photography studio on the Santa Fe Plaza in 1904 (for I believe it was $200) and he commenced to make a living as a photographer and painter of Southwest scenes -- which earned him the title of "The First Artist in Santa Fe." I've pointed out that this is absurd on its face, as Santa Fe had been full of artists and artisans long before Carlos Vierra was born, for centuries before Carlos Vierra was born. So his title was changed to "the first resident artist," and that doesn't work, either. So his title was changed again to "the first easel artist," and that might work, except that I'm sure some of the pre-existing santeros must have occasionally employed easels. So his most hilarious title became "the first Anglo artist" in Santa Fe, which simply boggles the mind, as he was the son of Portuguese immigrants, and was ethnically and culturally as Portuguese as he was Americano. Anglo? Not hardly. Portuguese-American? Sure. (But as everyone knows, in New Mexico, everyone who is not Spanish or Indian is automatically categorized as "Anglo.")

Vierra was instrumental in establishing Santa Fe as a vibrant art capital, there's no doubt about that, and perhaps that's why his title as the "first" -- something -- is considered so important. For prior to his advent in Santa Fe, "art" -- in the Anglo and commercial sense -- was pretty much confined to the Taos Art Colony which had been established 80 miles up the road in 1898 by Ernest Blumenschein's and Bert Phillips' fortuitous Broken Wagon Wheel and the artists they were able to attract to the area from Back East.

We're talking about studio art, easel art, paintings in a recognized style, for exhibit in recognized galleries and museums, and for sale to important collectors.  "Colonial" art in a sense, but not in the sense that New Mexicans had been using the term with regard to the Spanish colonization. Colonial art produced in colonies of artists brought together under a particular (and often almost monastic) "rule" that described and delimited stylistic and other parameters that all members of the colony were expected to adhere to.

That's what we're talking about when we're talking about the pre-industrial artistic life in New Mexico, when the idea of New Mexico as an arts and cultural capital was being explored by artists from New York, Europe, and in a few cases, California and elsewhere.

The Southwestern Allure exhibit was breathtaking, from the first to the last. Many of the paintings on view were ones I'd never seen before, such as the one below by Carlos Vierra:

Carlos Vierra (American, 1876-1937), Northern New Mexico in Winter, 1922, oil on canvas, 28 x 38 inches, Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico
I'd seen some of his other paintings, specifically of Pueblo Mission churches as well as the murals he painted in the Museum's St. Francis Auditorium, but never anything like this. Part of what's so striking about it is how dark it is... So much of what I've seen of Vierra's other works is almost oversaturated with light to the point of being washed out.

The light in New Mexico is one of the chief allures for artists -- I've gasped myself at some of the light in these parts, even that which comes through the dining room window from time to time. While the light is alluring, it can be devilishly hard to capture in paint, as many, many artists discovered for themselves.

This watercolor by Edward Hopper, for example, painted in 1925, shows some of the difficulty painters encounter with the light:

Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967), Ranch House, Santa Fe, 1925, watercolor over pencil on paper, 13 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches, Williams College Museum of Art, Bequest of Lawrence H. Bloedel, Class of 1923, 77.9.6
While Hopper certainly captured the sense of the light in Santa Fe just before or after noon, the light plays tricks on the eye, no matter where you are or what time of day you're experiencing it.

Marsden Hartley did this pastel on paper in 1918 in an effort to capture the scale of the landscape as well as the light, and it is the first work that greets you as you enter the exhibit area:

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943), Arroyo Hondo, 1918, pastel on paper, 18 x 28 inches, Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico

It's like a bang in the face that makes me smile -- because despite its exaggeration, it's true. It depicts the feeling you get from the scale and the light, how insignificant you are in the vast eternal scheme of things, and yet how protected you feel in the embrace of the mountains.

Stuart Davis's Pajarito Plateau has long been one of my favorites of the era, for its sense of humor is almost unique given the seriousness with which so many members of the Santa Fe Art Colony approached their tasks:

Stuart Davis (American, 1894-1964), Pajarito Plateau, 1923, oil on canvas, 22 x 36 inches, Collection of Gerald and Kathleen Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Gerald Cassidy's smiling Pueblo Indian (in a Plains Indian headdress of course) also makes me laugh, as so many of Cassidy's works do, but this one, I had never seen before, so it held a special appeal for me:

Gerald Cassidy (American, 1879-1934), Master of Ceremonies, 1925, oil on canvas, 18 x 18 1/8 inches, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas, Mrs. H.S. Griffin Collection
Note the brilliance of the colors and especially the turquoise sky. While we often have the bluest blue skies I think I've ever seen, the sky only turns turquoise in contrast to some other, orange-y color nearby. I've seen it, for example, in the courtyard/patio of the Museum itself as the cubical building masses are limed orange/brown by the setting sun. In fact, I can sit in that courtyard all day long and just watch the different colors appear in the sky and the building, or go upstairs and watch the clouds turn from puffy white to gold to pink, and finally fade away in the charcoal gray of darkness. It's magical.

While there is still a very strong genre of Southwestern art being done today, these paintings, mostly from the teens and 20s of the last century, when the idea of painting the Southwest was still relatively new, are some of the most evocative I've seen. They seem unique today.

This is perhaps my favorite period of New Mexico art, and I'm still learning everything I can about it and about the artists who created these works.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

There's Your Trouble -- So Michael Gordon Is At It Again

Michael Gordon. Does the name ring a bell? It ought to. Michael Gordon was a co-reporter with Judith Miller on a number of those false stories published by the New York Times, false stories otherwise known as propaganda, which assisted the Bush-Cheney Administration in ginning up support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, an action that led to perhaps a million dead, four or five million displaced, who knows how many millions wounded, an entire nation -- and later on a whole region -- in flames and ruin, and so on.

That Michael Gordon. He's still with the NYT, and it seems he's at it again, this time on the Ukrainian front, cheerfully spreading false information and propaganda about supposed Russian "special forces" stirring up trouble and making war -- or what have you -- in Ukraine's Eastern Sector, where Ukrainian troops have been ordered to engage and defeat the "terrorists."


Robert Parry explains at Consortium News:

Grainy Photos
Now, the New York Times has led its Monday editions with an article supposedly proving that Russian military special forces are secretly directing the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine in resistance to the Kiev regime, which took power after the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22.
The Times based its story on grainy photographs provided by the Kiev regime supposedly showing the same armed “green men” involved in actions with the Russian military earlier and now with the pro-Russian protesters who have seized government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine.
The Times reported, “Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.”
The Times apparently accepts the photos as legitimate in terms of where and when they were taken, but that requires first trusting the source, the post-coup regime in Kiev which has a strong motive for making this argument as a prelude to violently crushing the eastern Ukrainian protests.
Secondly, one has to believe that the fuzzy photographs of the circled faces are the same individuals. They may be, but it is difficult to be sure from what is displayed. The principal figure shown is a man with a long beard and a cap sometimes pulled down over his forehead. He could be a Russian special forces soldier or a character from “Duck Dynasty.”
And the resemblance of some uniforms to those worn by Russian soldiers is also circumstantial, since military gear often looks similar or it could have been sold to civilians, or the men could be veterans who kept their old uniforms after leaving the military. The fact that these men are adept at handling weapons also could mean that they have prior military experience, not that they are still active.
For the Times to cite the Obama administration’s endorsement of the Kiev regime’s claims as some kind of verification is also silly. Anyone who has followed the Ukraine crisis knows that the U.S. government is wholeheartedly on the side of the post-coup regime, trumpeting its propaganda and dismissing any counterclaims from the Yanukovych camp or from Moscow.
Masked Men
There’s other silliness in the Times article, such as the notion that the Russians are unusual in “masking” their special forces when U.S. military and intelligence services have been doing the same for decades. In contradicting Russian denials that the Kremlin has dispatched undercover soldiers, the Times wrote:
“But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.”
Is it possible that the Times’ reporters, including Pentagon correspondent Gordon, don’t know that U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers routinely grow beards and wear local garb to blend in when they are operating in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Central America, etc.?
When I was covering Central America policy in the 1980s, I knew American mercenaries, including former U.S. Special Forces soldiers, who provided training and other assistance to the region’s security forces. Sometimes, these veterans coordinated their actions with the U.S. government and sometimes they were simply making money.
More recently, there have been the various permutations of Blackwater, a private security firm that employs former U.S. military personnel and makes them available to governments around the world, sometimes in support of American interests but sometimes not.
All these are factors that should be considered when making claims about whether military men who show up in Kiev or eastern Ukraine or anywhere else are on assignment for a specific government or are working for a local “oligarch” or are simply inspired by nationalism. But these nuances are missing from the Times story as it jumps to its preferred conclusion.
Plus, you have to wonder how skillful the Russians really are at “masking” if they have their special forces troops wear uniforms that can be so easily traced back to Russia.
That is not to say that these “green men” might not be Russian special forces. I have one longtime source who is convinced that they are Russian soldiers (though he has not seen any proof), and another source who insists that the Russian government did not want the uprisings in eastern Ukraine and did not dispatch these men.
But the Times should have learned from its previous blunders and taken care to include alternative scenarios or point to evidentiary holes in what the Kiev regime claimed. Instead, the Times has again acted like a prosecutor determined to make a case, not a fair-minded judge weighing the evidence.
It is also an indictment of the Times’ professionalism that this newspaper of record can’t seem to detect neo-Nazis in the post-coup regime, when some have open histories of pro-Nazi behavior, while it goes to dubious lengths to discredit the eastern Ukrainians who are resisting the imposition of authority from an unelected administration in Kiev.
Just like the “aluminum tube” story that justified killing so many Iraqis and the “vector analysis” that almost unleashed a devastating U.S. bombing campaign on Syria, the Times’ “green men” piece may be the prelude to a bloodbath in eastern Ukraine. [For more on the U.S. propaganda, see “Ukraine. Through the US ‘Looking Glass.’”]

That the New York Times would once again enable and publish such falsity in order to help "make the case for..." well, in this case, if not war, exactly, at least its simulation... is no surprise. It's what they do, it's part of the Times' corporate values, it's a way of life for the Gray Lady.

That they would send their crack Pentagon reporter to do it, someone who passes on every false Pentagon story he can get his hands on or he is fed is something to be expected as well.

But these days, reporters like Parry and many others smelled the rot and propaganda right off and raised quite a stink about it, so much so that Margaret Sullivan was forced to respond and a sort-of-something like a "correction" -- but not retraction -- wound up buried in the print editions of the paper and was posted online.

This sort of stinky propaganda effort is found throughout mainstream -- and much of the "alternative" -- American media, especially whenever the Powers That Be want to make a war of some sort. It's labeled "patriotic" reporting, but it's really the devil's handiwork. It's so common at the New York Times -- in regard to some issues but not others -- that the paper's reputation for truth-telling long ago went into the trash heap, and all their stories about issues of war and peace are met with understandable skepticism and many face fierce criticism. The Times lies, and Michael Gordon, as parrot and mouthpiece for the Pentagon and on his own account, is one of the Times' worst offenders. His partner, Judith Miller, now works for FOX, where she probably belonged all the time.

Gordon would fit right in.

Given the shaky provenance on which the original NYT story was based, you'd think there would be more than a few caveats before anything was published, especially in light of the obvious propaganda that is being distributed like candy from all the Western and Ukrainian governmental (or in the case of Ukraine "governmental") sources (not that the Russians aren't doing something similar; they definitely are.) The point is not that propaganda is being distributed, it is that the premiere media outlet in the United States is uncritically amplifying it and using one of its least credible and most notorious warmonger-reporters to do so.

Of course, part of the problem was that a coup was engineered and undertaken in Kiev, much as a similar action was taken in Cairo last year, to overthrow the elected government and install a "coup regime" friendly to certain Western and financial interests. Popular discontent was used as the pretext for the coup in both cases.

A major difference is that the coup in Cairo was backed by and undertaken by a very strong military -- which had also been instrumental in overthrowing the Mubarak regime two years prior. The Cairo overthrow of Morsi was accompanied by a furious bloodbath of Morsi supporters, thousands shot down in the streets, tens of thousands jailed and effectively disappeared. The Cairo coup was backed by if not instigated by Washington, and to this day, while the US Government pretends to "distance itself" from the brutal actions of the Cairo coup regime, Washington's support for the Cairo coup regime has never wavered. "Just don't call it a coup."

Ukraine is different because there is no substantial Ukrainian military. Thus a coup was instigated by a technocratic, predatory finance sector with strong EU ties (which included support from Americans like Pierre Omidyar) without much consideration of the consequences.

The Eastern Sector, which has close ties to Russia, wishes autonomy, and some of the government facilities in the Eastern Sector have been taken over and barricaded by Russian sympathizers, generally called "separatists." All that's clear about them is that they don't want to be ruled by the Fascists and Nazis in Kiev.

The Kiev coup regime is on very shaky ground, as they were installed to accomplish certain actions on behalf of the EU, NATO and IMF, and are not really a governing entity at all. Their control of the country is limited to say the least.

In order to make them into a government, they must demonstrate they control territory, the armed forces, and the loyalty of the People -- none of which they've been able to do. Especially not in the Eastern Sector, but it doesn't appear they have much support or authority anywhere in Ukraine outside the palaces they occupy in Kiev.

Consequently, the furious propaganda campaign, overwhelming practically everything else. The Kiev coup regime  -- or its sponsors -- employ open Nazis, fascists and mercenaries to do their wet-work -- which may well have included the snipers in the Maidan square in Kiev which led directly to the overthrow of the Yanukovych government. Sending death squads to the Eastern Sector seems to be underway, but so far, results are inconclusive.

In the meanwhile, Michael Gordon at the New York Times will no doubt continue to crank out warrior propaganda to support the notion that this war of all wars is the necessary war.

And here I thought Anne Appelbaum was as bad as they get...

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.