Tuesday, September 30, 2008

When Do The Police Answer for Their Fuck Ups?

Amongst the many people who had their houses illegally searched and were detained for no reason prior to the RNC (well, check that, detained for the very specific reason of preventing them from using their constitutionally protected rights to free speech), one was longtime local activist and founder of Arise! bookstore.

Why was his house raided and all of its occupants arrested? Because police "intelligence" confirmed that he was receiving shipments of weapons to violently shut down the RNC. The only problem is that the police were completely wrong.

The boxes of weapons in question were nothing but pamphlets about vegetarianism which, while a very backward and dangerous ideology, probably does not necessitate breaking into people's houses with your guns drawn and arresting everyone inside.

But what I really want to know is why the police don't have to answer for such monumental fuck-ups. If I tried to publish a paper with such obviously wrong ideas and was proved to be incorrect in every way possible, I would laughed out of my profession. But if cops operate on obviously faulty intelligence and harass law-abiding citizens, nothing what-so-ever happens to them. In fact, their mayor comes out in support of them saying they showed admirable restraint.

Good work if can get it, I suppose...

Friday, September 26, 2008

September Baseball and Community

Growing up in a small state with no professional sports teams, there wasn't really a consensus on who to root for. Sure, I was a die-hard Twins fan, but most of my friends liked the Cubs, or Cardinals, or any of the other teams from bordering states. So when your team won, there weren't too many people to celebrate with. You just kind of went about your day happy for a victory, but alone in your joy. Which, in a way, takes away some of the best parts of sports; namely, having an amazing collective experience.

But living in the same city as the team you love is an incredibly different story. It really is like that scene in Major League where the punks are hugging the suits and the rabbis are hugging the clerics and all of that. Just wearing a Twins shirt or hat opens you up to the possibility of conversation everywhere you go.

And it really is a great feeling. Not to go on a Putnam-esque rant about the state of today's society, but big city folk don't usually talk to strangers. It really makes the town feel a whole lot more homey when everyone has a smile for everyone else after an amazing three-game sweep of the hated rivals. Even the buses flash "Go Twins" between giving route information on their little electronic signs.

I'm tempted to wax philosophically about the power of sport to bring us all together, but I know whatever unity it brings is ephemeral and fleeting. But still, when you're in a playoff hunt in september, it's pretty amazing the way everyone is suddenly friends...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Welcome your FIRST-PLACE Minnesota Twins!

Obligatory Twinkies Post

Despite sending away arguably their two best players this past winter, the Twins are again playing meaningful* September baseball. And damn if it ain't exciting. At the game last night I definitely got some grey hairs out it all, but in the end saw another young guy step up and saw Twitchy McXanax get his 200th career save.

And with time being a major crunch for me lately (possibly related to the fact that I'm spending a bit more time watching baseball than I probably should), I don't have time to go on a full-length rant about the state of parity in Major League Baseball, but suffice it to say that it just came out that the Yankees spend twice as much on their payroll as the Rays and Twins combined. In fact, just the left half of their infield (Jeter and A-Rod) make more than either the Twins or the Rays payroll.

And yet, the Rays are cruising to 1st place in possibly the best division in baseball, and Twins are gutting it out again with a bunch of 23 year old kids making 15 cents a day.

As with all things in Minnesota, you have to measure them on a different rubric. I can't see these Twins going too far in the post-season (but I love their chances next year), but right now, all of this is good enough that I don't really care. For late-season fights for the pennant are the Minnesota version of playoffs anyway.

*Yes, I know in the grand scheme of life no baseball is actually meaningful, but in the context of things, etc...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mainstream Criminology and Market Failures

I'm TA-ing for Intro to the American Criminal Justice System right now, and as much as it's an interesting class, the content is a bit different from how I would teach it. For in this class, the students are learning about two mainstream theories of crime -- Order Maintenance Policing (OMP) and Collective Efficacy.

Basically, OMP says that if you aggressively police small crimes like vandalism and loitering, it sends a message that crime is not welcome and will prevent bigger crimes from happening. Despite some very thorough and convincing research that this doesn't actually work, it sounds like it makes intuitive sense. On the other side of things, collective efficacy holds that the more social cohesion there is in the neighborhood, the less likely people are to commit crimes because they see that everyone is committed to a safe neighborhood and won't tolerate illegal activities.

Now, there are tons of problems with both of these theories (for instance, use either of them to explain Enron to me), but the biggest problem is that they both rest on a highly punitive theory that sees people as rationally calculating actors who will commit crimes if it's more profitable than legal activity and vice-versa. Therefore, we just need to raise the costs of doing crime (longer jail sentences, etc.) and people will stop committing criminal acts.

Of course, such a line of logic completely misses the fact that most property crimes are committed because the person in question has no other choice. It's not like they're weighing the options of a Harvard MBA versus mugging people. They're much more likely to be weighing starvation and homelessness against mugging people.

But an even bigger problem with such logic is that those who spout it know full damn well it doesn't work and are clearly only using it as a way to round up the poor and minorities, providing cheap prison labor, easy scapegoats, a roll-back of the civil rights movement, and a whole host of other disingenuous motives.

And how am I able to make such audacious claims about their motives? Because when the criminals are wealthy elites, suddenly the logic flies right out the window, as the above cartoon illustrates. For the poor we can't have rehabilitation instead of prison, as the conservatives argue, because it will make people dependent on the state and not punish them for their crimes. However, when you purposefully commit illegal acts and create a national financial crisis, you get $700 billion, which of course in no way encourages future criminal action. No, it sends the strong message that white collar crime will not be accepted.

So let that be a message to you, future CEOs of America: if you act criminally and fuck up the entire nation's financial system, we will harshly punish you by giving you hundreds of billions of dollars. So please, walk the straight and narrow.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Two Short Plays About the American Economy

Here's what would happen if I fucked up really bad and lost a bunch of money on a shady housing deal:

Jesse: Oh fuck! This house I clearly couldn't afford is being taken away from me!

U.S. Government: Of course it is! You should manage your finances better.

Jesse: But now I'll be homeless and destitute! Where can I go? What can I do?

U.S. Government: Well, maybe being homeless for awhile will teach you a valuable lesson about fiscal responsibility.

Jesse: Dang, looks like it's back to living in the car for me!

Here's what would happen if I were the CEO of a major lending firm:

Jesse the CEO: Oh fuck! Lending large sums of money to people I knew full well would not be able to pay me back has bitten me in the ass. I clearly have no idea what I'm doing!

U.S. Government: That's ok. Here's 700 billion dollars with no strings attached. Enjoy!

Please contacts your Senators and Reps.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Arg, It Be That Time Agayne

Yes, once again it is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and for your help and edification, here's the official guide to talking like a pirate, including how to speak like a pirate in German, Swedish, and Mandarin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Innocent People Dying, blah, blah, blah

The busy semester is keeping me really busy (as one might infer from it being called "the busy semester"), so I haven't had much time to crank out some thoughtful blogposts. In the meantime, I'll just keep you posted on many of the standard yet horrible injustices going on in the world.

Horrible injustices such as Georgia Executing an Innocent Man. It's a fascinating case with the particulars, but otherwise it's the standard police couldn't find a suspect so they shoe-horned an innocent blackman into the role and now he's going to lose his life for happening to have been where he was at the time the actual crime was committed story...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How Do You Know It's Gotten Out of Hand?

When Karl Rove says you've gone too far. I haven't actually seen the commercial in question, but when the dark overlord of all that is unholy says you're going too far, chances are you've said something pretty fucking terrible.

You know what else went way too far? The policing at the RNC. Want to see a really good example of the cops needlessly pepper-spraying and beating an unarmed and passive protestor, and then closing ranks around her so they could beat her without the camera being able to pick it up? Well, the click here, but I'll warn you in advance, it's pretty disturbing. Though not as disturbing as what they've been accused of doing once inside the protective walls of the local jails when there was absolutely no chance of a television camera picking it up...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Art of Being a Dick, featuring Norm McDonald

Being a dick is a difficult thing. It isn't just about making fun of people, or making passers-by uncomfortable. The talented ones can do it and not look like jerks in the process. For example, my brother is one of the few who has elevated it to a fine art. Even when he's being such a dick that you can't stand it, on a certain level you have to applaud both the commitment and cleverness involved. It's actually kind of a beautiful thing on an odd meta-level.

Norm McDonald has basically made a career out of it, and few are better. See for instance, this recently uncovered clip of him being a giant ass on Conan many years ago:

But note that what makes it wonderful is that even though he's being a giant dick to everyone involved, it seems warranted. After all, it is indeed a stupid career move to leave a top-rated show for a Carrot Top movie that has a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, even if you are Courtney Thorne-Smith. And really, wouldn't most people rather see Norm McDonald make fun of a flash-in-the-pan star than hear another rehearsed, packaged interview comprised of nothing but pre-written studio sotck phrases? I think so...

Who's Reading Jesse's Bog? Part IV In a Never-Ending Series

I'm not much of one to shill for people (except for the great taste of Miller Lite©...great taste, less filling. Just one of the many fine beverages from the good folks at the Miller Brewing Corporation), but I do have to give a shout-out to google analytics. It's this really sweet program that tracks everything you could ever want to know about who is visiting your website or blog.

And trust me, it gets really fascinating. For example, I know that I have a certain international appeal, but now it's been confirmed, for my humble li'l blog has been visited by people on every single continent. Save, of course, Antarctica. Though to be fair, they don't keep track of antarctic visitors, so for all I know they're reading it down there, too.

And that's a pretty cool feeling. Of course, as I've acknowledged before, a pretty healthy chunk of those "people" are really just trolling internet programs trying to sell me black market viagra, but still, some portion of the visitors to my blog must be real flesh and blood human beings.

Some of the nations of visitors are surprising (I'm kind of a big deal in Yemen, it turns out), but others I could have guessed. The Cannucks seem big on me, and I'm huge in both Germany and France. They must be tuning in for my progressive America-bashing and/or support for socialized medicine. I also get a fair number of hits from India, but to be fair, even if I were getting thousands of hits from India it would still be only about .000001% of their population.

Though I would really like to point out that I have hits from China, meaning my li'l ol' blog is safe enough to get through official government censorship. Now, maybe it's just because I'm a communist, but I like to think that the demand for my witty insights into life is so high that even totalitarian governments must bend to the will of my many fans. Or they're the ones posting all of the discount viagra comments. Either way, though, it's pretty cool.

Update: After posting this, I just realized it's 9/11 today...so you know, bake an American-flag shaped cake or punch an immigrant or something. We all have to do our part, you know.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Helping You and Needing Some Help

One doesn't simply go from being an all-american small town altar boy to a rabble-rousing, law-breaking malcontent all by themselves. Sure, I had a head start on it compared to most people with a lefty family and an economically devastated hometown with no opportunities to show me the dismal side of our political and economic system, but even I needed a nudge along the way.

And many people along the way helped me a great deal, but amongst those who did the most, one finally pushed e from respectable upstanding citizen to common criminal. Fr. Frank Cordaro (ret.) of the Des Moines Catholic Worker House was the first to introduce me to a life of civil disobedience and Christian resistance.

The Des Moines Catholic Worker House is a part of the larger Catholic Worker movement, made up of Anarchist Catholics dedicated to serving the poor and remedying social injustices. They have given up nearly all of their material possessions and live in community and poverty. The Des Moines Catholic Worker not only feeds the homeless daily (as well as providing them many other services), they are also the heart and soul of the Iowa peace movement. Whether it's been protesting the Iowa Air National Guard's patrolling of the no fly zones in Iraq (which means preventing needed food and medicine from reaching the Iraqi people) or attempting a people's arrest of Karl Rove for War Crimes, they provide the services our government can't or won't to the people who need it the most.

But like most everyone in Iowa, they were hit pretty hard by the floods. Especially considering all of the members of the worker community live in formerly condemned houses they have rehabilitated, which as you may guess, don't hold up so well to floods. Due to many circumstances beyond their control, they are also down in numbers of community members right now as well, so they are having an especially hard time recovering from the damages.

And we cannot let this community die, or we can kiss goodbye a great chunk of all Midwestern radical peace organizing (these people do a lot of work, I'm telling you). If you're at all inclined, send a donation to them here:

C/O Frank Cordaro
Phil Berrigan CW House
713 Indiana Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50314

Of if you happen to be in Des Moines, stop by and lend a hand. Tell 'em Jesse sent you. And, as always, keep them in your prayers.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Rest of the RNC

So it turns out that when you have a bunch of work piling up, the semester starts, and you're busy protesting every day, you run out of time for the little things, like sleeping, eating, and of course, blogging.

But now that all the confetti has been cleared out, all of the police have been tucked back into their suburban homes, heavy with the happy rest that only 4 full days of hippie ass whompin' can give you, and all of the rabble have been safely charged with ridiculous made-up felony charges, I have some more free time on my hands. Which is not to say I have much free time, but enough to vaguely keep my head above water.

Day 3 of the RNC was pretty low key for me. There weren't any major actions planned, but I did go to a great performance of Wake Up World, the world's only 6-hour long morning show, created by one of the co-creators of the Daily Show. It was a fun time, but mostly we were there for Billy Bragg's intimate performance, which was quite good but ended far too soon so we could watch that lipstick-wearing pitbull, or whatever the hell that speech was about.

And that night, yet another Rage concert ended in arrests, as concertgoers from their downtown Target Center performance we arrested en masse for charges that still haven't been made clear. Though I imagine if they had been at say, a Toby Keith concert and acted in the exact same manner they probably would not have been arrested.

Day 4 we had been warned by our inside informant to stay away because the cops were really ramping up their efforts that day, and sure enough, as I mentioned in an earlier post, about 300-400 people were arrested that afternoon to put the week's arrest total over 800 (compared to 150 arrests at the DNC in Denver). Given the amped-up presence and a relationship event of significance, the lady friend and I took a personal day and avoided the melee.

So now things are back to relative normativity, but all of those charged with a felony last week (which was scientifically determined by what each person was wearing, according to scores of those arrested and legal observers) have launched a class action lawsuit against the city of St. Paul and local fascist demagogue Bob Fletcher for their heavy-handed and inept policing of the RNC. But, the RNC 8, those arrested in pre-RNC raids held on some serious felony charges, still face some really bad prison time for expressing their right to free speech. If this makes you a little uncomroftable with the state of our democracy, please check out their website and help 'em out.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Out of Order Quick Post

So really quickly, the police crackdown has dramatically increased. They shut down a march today and expect to have arrested several hundred people, putting the total reached in the week somewhere near 700 people total having been arrested. Tonight's arrests included 15 reporters, who were obviously neither protesting nor breaking any damn laws.

If you disagree with the Heartland becoming a police state, please contact Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher at 651.266.9333, and ask him to please stop trampling the last shreds of our constitution. While you're at it, please share thoughts with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (651.266.8510).

It doesn't really have anything to do with where you fall on the political spectrum...this is embarrassing to all of us as citizens of democracy and human beings.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Day 2 of the RNC

Day 2 was a pretty interesting day all around. To begin with, it was the first day of school, and I've drawn possibly the worst TA assignment one can get this semester, so I'll be having an interesting school year, but that's largely beside the point.

A friend had gotten some tickets to the taping of the Daily Show, it's first day here in St. Paul. After waiting three plus hours just to get inside, we finally got to sit down and wait for another hour. Finally the pre-show warm-up guy came out, and after nearly half of the sociology department had been involved in his little set, John Stewart came out to do some q+a before the show started. And it takes way to much background information to work out of context, but suffice it to say that this humble li'l blogger asked a question good enough to make him laugh and throw him off his game a little bit, which made me feel way cooler than it should have. But at least I got a good story out of it.

The show was really fun to watch live like that, and provided me with many great stories, but the real story was on the streets. After the taping, they wouldn't let us leave because all of downtown was on lockdown. Earlier in the day, there was a free concert, and when Anti-Flag tried to cut their set short and give the stage over to a surprise Rage Against the Machine performance, the police cut the power and shut down the show. Zach grabbed a megaphone and lead the crowd in some acapella versions of a few Rage songs, but then the concert was broken up and the police forced everyone into the streets, where they met up with a pre-existing rally...a brilliant strategy for keeping peace and order.

But the real excitement for the night was after the taping, when we were able to stand on the street and watch fascism in action. After the rally passed, they were followed by phalanx after phalanx of riot police (over 150, by my count). All of a sudden, all of the police lined up single file, knelt in unison, and took off their helmet to put on gas masks, then stayed bent over and covered their heads.

So that was definitely a scary moment, but we got away without being gassed (though they were apparently gassing people up the street). However, my inside source at the St. Paul PD then texted me to get the hell out of there because the National Guard was being called in with live ammunition (live ammunition meaning real bullets).

So I got out with my life, but it was another long, fun, and scary day. But I guess I'm going to keep up with this one-day-behind coverage, so check back in tomorrow for day 3 news, featuring another Rage concert leading to arrests and an intimate Billy Bragg show.

I'll be checking out the last protest this afternoon which may be against my better judgement, seeing as this is the pigs' last chance to whomp some hippie ass, but I just can't stay away. On the plus side, only one more day until all of those out of town trouble makers (CIA, FBI, National Guard, etc.) are out of our peaceful town.

Also, just for your edification, over 100 of the people summarily arrested monday have already had their charges thrown out as blatantly false, and one staffer for a Republican state senator was arrested in the middle of the mass arrests. So in other words, they've only arrested one actual criminal thus far...

A Great Time in The Ol' Police State

So it's been awhile, but in case you haven't been paying attention, the Twin Cities are more or less under siege in a complete police state. But here's a re-cap of what your favorite rabble rouser has been up to...

Day 1 of the RNC:

Day 1 started out fairly mild. There was the big, legal and well-organized march. It was good time; we marched, we chanted, we walked through the freedom cage, we angered the 4 or 5 counter-protesters. All in all a pretty standard protest march. But the highlight? The Iraq Veterans Against the War attempted to enter the RNC to present their demands for immediate withdrawal and were met by over 100 officers in complete riot gear blocking the building. Undeterred by the fascism they were supposedly fighting overseas, they did not back down and eventually, the police parted and let them through. They then read their demands on the floor of the RNC itself. Perhaps you haven't heard about this, but far be it from me to suggest the mainstream media does a poor job of covering political dissent.

After the march, the lady friend and I headed over to the Take Back Labor Day rally/concert, and it was easily one of the best shows I've seen in a long, long time. Though we missed most of Billy Bragg's set (no worries, seeing him tonight), we did see Steve Earle and Alison Moorer turn in a nice performance as we settled down to lunch. Atmosphere did a damn fine set, Mos Def was a little disappointing, and Pharcyde was phar from that good (see what I did there?).

But Tom Morello as the Nightwatchmen stole the show. His set was an amazing combination of informative politics and unabashedly passionate music. Highlights include him doing an acoustic version of Guerilla Radio (complete with replicating his famous solo on the freaking harmonica) and when he invited the Iraq Veterans Against the War to lead the crowd in the most rocking version of "This Land is Our Land" that you will ever hear. I actually started to get chocked up during that one.

However, the fun dissipated as right across the river we were all treated to a display of state repression as over 300 peacefully assembled people were surrounded by the police, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and some beaten. They are currently all being held, but charged with nothing. This is a nice continuation of the police's weekend pre-RNC raids on several area houses, often breaking doors down and entering with weapons drawn to arrest people for no specific crime (most still have not been formally charged with anything).

Finally, after a long, fun, and scary day, we biked the hour back home to Mpls to rest and marvel at the police presence. This post is already too long, so look for tomorrow's coverage of Day 2, featuring a visit to the Daily Show and your blogging hero nearly getting gassed. Stay tuned...