Well, It’s Not Tear Gas

When you hear that there was no tear gas in Ferguson last night, no rubber bullets, you might be tempted to relax about the situation. Don’t do that.

Police in Ferguson may not have been indiscriminately shooting tear gas at everyone they saw on the street, but what happened last night was still seventeen flavors of fucked up. That it was an improvement over the night before is a measure of the previous night’s depravity, not an indication of competent police peacekeeping. [Read more...]

Overnight in Ferguson

I did a shorter version of this yesterday morning on Twitter and received a ridiculous number of retweets, so there’s obviously an appetite for “highlights” from the overnight feeds on Ferguson.

Last night, despite curfew having been lifted, police in Ferguson once again drove their armored trucks into residential neighborhoods and shot teargas into the area. Once again, media were gassed. Once again, media were arrested, though that had also been happening during the day. No media arrests I’m aware of have resulted in charges, just detainment.

I’m not in a position to find a link at the moment, but if you have the stomach, find Elon James White’s audio (with poor video) of his crew’s experience. They were not the only news crew that reported being fired upon. White also reported that the police appeared to be firing at anyone they saw on the streets.

The rationale given for the start of tear gas were one again shots fired and Molotov cocktails. Police reported two people shot, one of whom I’ve seen confirmed independently. Among the people the police arrested, they claimed—at a very early press conference—to have confiscated two guns and one Molotov cocktail. The Molotov is the target of much scorn, as it was improperly made, unlighted, and in a Colt 45 bottle. Locals told one reporter that Colt 45, despite the stereotypes, couldn’t be obtained locally.

There were agitators confirmed in Ferguson, including members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The RCP claims that only revolution can fix societal problems, but they haven’t started one in the own communities. This is also the group behind Stop Patriarchy, a pro-abortion group that has been co-opting the idea of “freedom rides” for an abortion tour that appears to be mostly raising funds to film themselves talking about abortion. The RCP agitators were confronted by local black leaders.

Amnesty International observers had been ordered out of the area. At least one report said guns were pointed during the time they were ordered out, but documentation of that had not turned up by the time the Amnesty Twitter list stopped operating for the night.

The county police held a prayer circle before the evening’s activities, and a sectarian prayer was held during the press conference. The police were conspicuously working through the evening and, presumably, into the night, with no badges or other identifying insignia.

Darren Wilson is still at large. No one has so much as announced plans to find him or take him into custody.

 

“Never Point a Gun”

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.”

It’s the first thing I learned about guns. It’s what kept running through my head last night as I watched the pictures coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. One on side, protesters dancing, holding their hands up in that signal of physical surrender, remembering their neighbor, demanding answers, knowing it could have been them. On the other side, an armored truck with a carbine rifle mounted on a tripod.

The gun wasn’t merely ready, waiting in case it was needed. It was pointed at protesters. It was pointed at reporters. It was pointed at cameras.

Another gun was pointed at Elon James White later that evening as he asked for information on how to leave the area.

“Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy.” [Read more...]

TBT: Reality-Based Politics

Jeff Johnson is running for governor of Minnesota this year, on a platform of making us more like Wisconsin. (I know people in Wisconsin, so, no.. Also I like my governor.) I didn’t remember that I’d written about Johnson before, in August 2009.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has no quarrel with publicly funded treatment for alcoholics. But he said he struggles with taxpayer money going to housing for chronic alcoholics that offer no treatment at all.

Not only that, he was surprised to learn, the so-called “wet houses” don’t even require their homeless residents to stay sober.

“I understand these people are very sick, but I don’t think that means you should expect absolutely nothing out of them,” Johnson said. “If we’re going to provide you housing, you should figure out how to stop being drunk all the time.”

[sigh]

Jeff is a nice guy, generally. I used to work with his wife, so I’ve met him and the kids, and a cuter family you’re not likely to meet. But this…. [Read more...]

Introducing the Secular Majority

From Mary Ellen Sikes, news of a new organization that does not cover the same ground as the organizations we have now:

Candidates have a new constituency to court in the 2014 election season: voters who’ve had it with religion in politics. In at least eight states, the new Secular Majority will be distributing a questionnaire to identify and endorse federal and state candidates who support a secular approach to public education, reproductive rights, marriage equality, science, and a host of other topics related to the separation of church and state.

Independent, non-partisan, and staffed by volunteers, the Secular Majority is operational in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas. A Michigan team is currently organizing and additional states will be added as volunteers step forward, with the goal of reaching all fifty states.

In a 2012 study of voters by the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life, the largest response group was made up of those turned off by religion in politics — an unprecedented finding. Also from Pew, the generation known as the Millennials (adults from 18 to 33) is the most liberal and least religious of any in the past.

“Secularism is clearly trending,” said Secular Majority founder and president Mary Ellen Sikes. “Americans of all faiths and none are fed up with elected officials imposing their religious beliefs on the people they’re supposed to be representing. In 2014 we shouldn’t need to lobby our legislators to let us use birth control or marry the person we love. Religiously neutral government makes it possible for Americans to live their lives in harmony with their own beliefs and values — that’s the American dream, and we’re working to elect candidates who agree with us about that.”

The Secular Majority is an independent, non-partisan, grassroots network of organizers, activists, and voters with the mission of identifying, supporting, and aiding in the election of qualified candidates committed to secular government and civic equality for Secular Americans. For more information, or to contact a State Director, visit www.SecularMajority.us.

If you have time to help out, particularly if you’re in a state that doesn’t already have coverage, please volunteer here. Make it possible for voters who care about maintaining a strong separation of church and state in all areas of policy to find the information they need to make informed choices at the polls.

Minneapolis 2014 Primary Sample Ballot

This Tuesday is a primary election in Minneapolis, and following my usual pattern, I’m posting my choices and reasoning publicly. Voting in the primary here is done on a single-party basis. You don’t have to be registered to a party to vote, but you can only vote for one party’s candidates on the partisan portion of the ballot, which covers everything but school board and the judiciary this year. I’m voting in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor category.

To find out where you vote and what will be on your ballot, go to the Secretary of State’s elections website. Give them your address, and they’ll show you who is running for all offices you’re eligible to vote on. Under the candidates will be one link to see a sample ballot (which may be easier to read) and one link for your polling place.

As always, I put my reasoning for my votes online for people who don’t have the resources or time to do their own. If my reasoning doesn’t match yours, at least you have some background. If you want to provide additional background in the comments, feel free. [Read more...]

TBT: Al Franken, Comic

This was originally posted in June 2008. It seems appropriate to revisit it now, six years later, when he’s up for reelection after his first term as senator. Just a comic, my ass.

I was on another blog this morning where someone was disparaging Al Franken as “this comic.” I’m crossposting my response here, because…

I’m getting tired of this “just a comic” trope. Being a successful comic, which Franken is, requires a number of talents useful to a politician. It requires you to be able to communicate to a broad range of people. It requires you to look through things that are “supposed to” be to see what is. It requires an ability keep your audience on your side while making them uncomfortable.

Now, sure, a comedian can take all that and never apply it beyond battle-of-the-sexes jokes. Maybe I don’t want that comedian to be a politician. But that isn’t what Franken has done. Have you read Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them or his other political books? Franken used his talents to dissect the conservative policy machine when almost no one else was doing it. He could have just taken potshots at personalities, but instead, he combined the potshots with substantial information on why those policies are based on bunk and actively hurtful.

So when someone dismisses Franken as a comic, I have to wonder. Have they paid no attention to Franken, or are they shilling for the other team and expecting that I’m too dumb to notice they don’t have any better arguments?

Between Now and November 4

So you’re upset about yesterday’s Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision that says your company can have a religion, and if it does, its religious rights trump your rights to affordable medical care. Good. You should be upset. You should be upset about most of the rulings the Supreme Court has been putting out over the last several years and this year in particular.

What are you going to do about it?

You can’t change the makeup of the court without illegal and arguably immoral actions, but this is not an acceptable situation. How are you going to change it?
[Read more...]

TBT: A Little Too Alive

This post was originally published in May 2009. It still creeps me out.

Rick pointed me at this video, a hand-cranked automaton of the “Don’t tase me, bro” guy. I expected it to be funny. It almost was–the first time. After that, it just got more disturbing. Seeing how the gears work made it even more so.

The artist, Jon Haddock, seems to specialize in rendering violence (including metaphoric violence, like his sculpture of the 107th Congress voting for the Patriot Act) in cartoonish ways. Some of his work actually is cartoons. Some of it just simplified, isolated in time or with pieces missing. Somehow, though, the extra work required to fully understand what you’re seeing just makes it worse.

This video of another automaton, titled Testimony of Sgt. Cortez (This Kind of Monster), is a case in point. It begins with watching a set of noise-makers. You never see what makes the noise. Only the perpetrators of the crime are ever seen. The victims are not. It doesn’t help.

“Mission Creep”: Easier Than It Sounds

Greta Christina has been writing a great series taking apart the argument that atheist groups working on social justice causes is “mission creep”. I suggest reading the whole series:

If you don’t want to read them all, you should at least take this message away:

I don’t know how much more clearly to say this: IT IS BROKEN. It is badly broken. Many marginalized people already feel very alienated from organized atheism because their/our issues get ignored, dismissed, trivialized, and worse. As I’ve said more than once in these conversations: The status quo is not neutral. Doing nothing is doing something. Doing things the way we’ve always done them is not a neutral act – it is contributing to the problem.

This needs to be understood and emphasized. When you raise objections to including social justice in the activities (and operations) of your group, this is what you need to weigh those objections against. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about this idea that it’s hard to bring social justice activities into an established community group, and I want to talk about it from my perspective as the associate president of one of the largest atheist community groups in the U.S.

This isn’t as hard as you think it is. [Read more...]