Adolf Eichmann: The Banality of Evil

“The Banality of Evil” is as important as it is today than it was in 1960 or in 1940. Scores of ‘well meaning people’, people who normally wouldn’t hurt a fly are still executing and enforcing illegal, inhumane, unenforceable criminal orders handed down by the president of the United States. The words ‘by federal mandate’ scares everyone into submission. Some agencies such as state and federal police are created for the express purpose of executing unjust orders, but then you have mayors and state authorities following their federal counterparts blindly, for fear of losing their positions or getting into trouble themselves. Now is a time to take a stand against state sanctioned violence and criminality. If those in power, even if they are just an insignificant immigration officer or airport security officer, don’t exercise that power based on their conscience, based on what’s right or wrong, then what they good for? They are no better than Adolf Eichmann, the man charged with the logistics of executing The Final Solution, the man who swore up and down at his trial what he did was a horrible thing, that he “sinned against God” but because all of it was legal, he, therefore, cannot be charged with a crime carried out under the laws and mandates of a legitimate government (The Third Reich). It was bullshit to those who heard it then in that Jerusalem courtroom in 1960, and it’s bullshit now. Huge crowds of people have gathered at our nation’s biggest airports, showing outrage at our government and support to those detained. Lawyers are offering their time and expertise to prepare unlawful habeas corpus briefs, these are people without a badge or assigned power, what are those in power prepared to do?

 

Hannah Arendt volunteered to report on Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1960 for The New Yorker magazine, she wrote a series of articles for them, later compiled in a book called Eichma…

Source: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

Homelessness, Death and the American Nightmare

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Photo Credit: Kiran Opal @kiranopal

I wrote about a relative visiting last summer who had addiction and mental health issues. We found out this morning the sad news that he has died. He was stabbed on the night of January 21, 2017 in Honolulu Hawaii, near a homeless tent city. The circumstances of his death are gruesome and tragic. We are shocked and saddened by his sudden and rather unexpected death. Though he has been homeless for a while, Honolulu is a safer place to be homeless than say Los Angeles. In fact, Hawaii is called a homeless person’s paradise, if there’s anything more sickening than that. There is mild weather all year round so they won’t freeze to death in the winter or overheat in the summer . There are many shelters and places to go for meals provided for by the state government or local charities, and they even have places to shower and clean up. Hawaii has the highest homeless persons per capita in the United States. Being homeless in Hawaii, sadly, especially post 2008 recession has become just another fact of life. Homeless encampments and ‘tent cities’ crop up in various abandoned industrial buildings in downtown Honolulu and other public parks. They aren’t subject to police harassment as long as they stay out of tourist areas such as Waikiki Beach and life goes on in parallel universes between the rich tourists who fly in for the weekend from Japan or the Philippines and go shopping and then fly home, the housed and the homeless.

This relative is my husband’s son from a previous marriage. He is my two children’s older half brother. Though his one and only visit in our home was a bit fraught due to his mental health issues, I am forever grateful my children got to meet him. My daughter being older at 4 years old has fond memories of her ‘big brother’. For all of his troubles, mental health issues (he’s a possible schizophrenic), drug addiction and homelessness, he was gentle and kind to his younger siblings. He was always a gentle, kind and sentimental person. He expresses deep love and affection for all of his family and friends. ‘Sweet’ would be an accurate description of his nature. His death, in such a violent and gruesome fashion is devastating for his parents, his siblings, cousins, extended family and friends. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He fell down the rabbit hole and there was no safety net to catch him.

He grew up in a solidly middle class family, he got good grades but somewhere in high school, like many adolescents he began experimenting with drugs and while he had periods of sobriety, full time sobriety eluded him.  It was a roller coaster of drug abuse and periods of sobriety where he had a job, a place to live and functioned normally. In the last couple of years, he began having hallucinations and violent outbursts as a result of those hallucinations. They mimicked symptoms of schizophrenia but it’s unclear if he’s really schizophrenic or the result of his many years of drug taking since the state of Hawaii pours its budget into beautifying tourist areas and not taking care of its people. Like many homeless people, getting in trouble with law enforcement comes hand in hand with being rootless and rudderless. He was under probation when he died. His probation officer was a kind lady who tried to help him, but how does law enforcement expect a homeless person without a car to get to classes, appointments and court hearings on time or at all. Every time he misses a hearing or appointment, it goes against his criminal record. He was in a cycle of getting trouble with the law and being homeless. And in this great nation of ours, having a criminal record basically renders you unemployable for life. He came from a middle class family, became a proletariat and died as a lumpenproletariat.

Over the holidays, when his family and friends in Hawaii couldn’t find him anywhere (he’s normally quite easy find and they bring him food and other necessities and he also goes to a relative’s house to get some of his other belongings and takes showers), I got a bad feeling. In recent months, he’s gone longer and longer before being seen and when he was spotted, he was seen talking to himself or inanimate objects. Even as recent as May of 2016, he had a full time job and rented a room, but as his violent outbursts became more frequent, he lost his job, couldn’t pay his rent and became homeless again. Being an adult who isn’t sectioned by the state, his parents nor his family could do much to commit him to treatment, even if Hawaii didn’t have a waiting list for any type of treatment facility a mile long. He’d have to go voluntarily but the need is so dire in Hawaii, it could be months perhaps a year before he’s admitted anywhere.

Neoliberalism, just like caption suggests, he would score points for being Asian and neoliberals don’t want anything bad to happen to him on the account of being Asian, but him dying a violent and horrific death as a result of being homeless due to mental health issues, having a criminal record and not finishing his college degree so that he can remain in the class in which he was born, well, that’s just too bad. To conservatives he is a ‘loser’, to liberals, he needs more ‘education and training’, to neoliberals it’s just tough luck, social darwinism. Over Christmas dinner, while discussing our concern for not being able to find him, I said that it’s not an accident that our relative and dear friend is in the situation he is in with next to no help besides sleeping in the county jail. He was put there by the 1% and the policies they helped our government influence. The state of Hawaii is flooded with homeless people but its a tourists paradise. Homelessness is at crisis levels. Our friends who live in Hawaii have observed this alarming trend for over one year, yet with all of the empty buildings downtown, all of the vacant boarded up houses, there is no government policy or action to quickly refurbish these places and give the homeless people a permanent bed to sleep on every night and three hot meals a day. How are the homeless supposed to ‘get back on their feet’ if they don’t even have a place to live and regular meals? If they’ve no permanent address or phone number how are they supposed to fill out job applications (assuming there are jobs of course, because according to Republicans and Democrats alike, there are jobs everywhere, you just have to look hard enough)?

And before anyone asks the million dollar question, ‘where are his parents and family in all of this?’ His father and siblings has offered all the help they can, I personally have spent hours on the phone finding a spot for him in rehab facilities and hospitals and trying to get him any type of assistance he can qualify for, people have taken turns going to Honolulu to see that he’s taken care of. He is unable to leave the state of Hawaii until he finishes his probation requirements, but that’s near impossible when you are living on the streets, mentally ill and broke. At the end of the day, he is a grown man, he has a lot of pride, and a lot of shame and embarrassment for his situation, especially when he sees his siblings graduate from college, moving on with their lives yet he’s stuck in a cycle of joblessness, poverty and homelessness, he doesn’t always want our help. Like many people in crisis, when asked how they are doing, the stock answer is “I am fine”.

We have no idea what happened which led him to being stabbed to death, he always had street smarts, he was the kid who could talk his way out of trouble, squirm his way out of tough spots, he doesn’t go looking for fights nor does he get in stupid confrontations over nothing. His father told him again and again, someone comes at you with a knife, run the opposite direction.

I have no answers on what to do, I only have anger and rage. Rest in Peace.

He should have picked up the pitchfork.

As of 12:01 January 20, 2017, we have a new president, Donald J. Trump; the most odious and oleaginous man to grace one’s imagination. How did he get here? How did we get here? It’s the actions and inactions of his predecessor Barack Obama.

“My administration,” the president added, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

-Barack Obama.

This was all Obama had to say to the greedy bankers sat before him when they were trying to justify why they deserved such high salaries and bonuses after they stole everyone else’s money and homes and got a government bailout. This statement also summarized this whole presidency. That he is a do nothing fence sitter. He tried to govern from the center like a good liberal, appealing to the morals and good conscience of the intransigent Republican party. While the Republican party obstructed and sabotaged, instead of playing their game on their level and strike back with whatever powers being a president affords him; Obama followed the rules, which was to do nothing, and then tell the voters who voted for him ‘sorry, I tried. If you have any issues, take it up with the Republicans.’ In his first midterm elections, he lost the House majority by a wide margin and nearly lost the Senate. He went from having a supermajority on both chambers to losing the majority in one chamber and nearly losing the majority on the other.

So this pattern went on. Obama doing everything half assed, never putting forth the full effort, in the spirit of compromise and finding common ground with his political foes. His so-called signature but about to be repealed domestic legislation the Affordable Care Act is another fine example of fence sitting. Instead of insisting on Single Payer or nothing, he concocted this messy hodgepodge of commingling of private insurance companies with public funds. Instead of insisting insurance companies play ball or the government will go ahead with its own government backed healthcare initiative, he compromised again. Eight years later, the ACA is all but useless, premiums are not lower and people find out they don’t get to keep their doctors unless they pay out of pocket for them. I have personal testimony to this fact. And if someone asks him now about the failure of Obamacare, he’ll say he tried his best with what he had to work with at the time. Not good enough.

Awkwardly, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, not having been in office for even a year, he’s never brokered any peace treaties, the only thing he remotely did which resembled an act of peace was his speech at Cairo University in Egypt about unity between Muslims, Jews and Christians. And the first foreign interview he gave as president of United States was to the Arabic network Al Arabiya (which we know now to be an Al Qaeda mouthpiece advocating for the war in Syria) as a show of good faith to the Muslim world. These combined actions furthered inflamed the claim from the far right that he’s really a Muslim and not a Christian. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, he’s gone on to bomb seven countries, all of them Muslim, all of them impoverished, brown and black. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “led from behind” – (what the fuck does that even mean?) along with NATO allies and destroyed Libya, now it’s a wasteland, a failed state, infiltrated and occupied by extremists. With Syria, he didn’t take a strong stance against against intervention except by saying “Assad needs to step aside” and by creating an arbitrary ‘red line’, but allowed Gulf mercenaries to send armed gangs to essentially invade Syria. The Gulf States provided the mercenaries and the US sold the weapons to the Gulf states. He gave himself a huge pat on the back when at the last minute he decided to not bomb Syrian army’s positions in Damascus because the evidence for the gas attack allegedly carried out by they Syrian army (the ‘red line’) was not solid and could have been a false flag by the rebels to induce the United States to bomb Syrian army’s positions. So, with less than 24 hours to spare, much to the ire of Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama called off the airstrikes. He’s learned from the lessons of Iraq and decided to let brown Arabic speaking people go to war with each other and topple undesirable regimes rather than US army invading another Muslim country in the Middle East again. This way, there is plausible deniability. And if it all goes sideways, the State Department can blame it on ‘sectarian conflict’. Obama’s one foreign policy winner is the nuclear deal struck with Iran. He did this against the opposition of the Republicans, Israel and various Israel lobbies, which goes to prove, if he really wanted to do something, he can get it done, even in the face of strong opposition. It wasn’t that Obama had warm and fuzzy feelings toward Tehran, but that risking a nuclear war with an oil rich Middle Eastern nation who has the support and backing of Russia isn’t smart foreign policy. Any policy which prevents going to war with Russia or any of its proxies is a good thing.

The biggest betrayal of Obama was towards the middle and working class Americans, the people that voted him into office, the people that supported him in spite of everything. The same people who are misty eyed at him leaving now. Obama bailed out the auto industry but not its workers. The workers were faced with either redundancy, forced early retirement at a fraction of the promised pension or accept lower wages and without union protection (we can’t afford it – he said). When Obama chose Wall Street over Main Street and let people lose their homes despite bailing out the banks who held their mortgages, he betrayed the people. He gave the banks a blank check and then told them to go help the people in need without any preconditions or consequences for not following through. The banks have no incentive nor fear of consequences for not saving people’s homes and they’ve got billions in free government bailout money at the same time. He did the same thing with Israel, he writes them a $38 billion dollar check and then says ‘now, be nice to the Palestinians, don’t shoot innocent civilians and don’t bomb them’. Under Obama the mass surveillance state started by Bush has expanded. When whistleblowers outed the NSA mass surveillance scheme, they were punished mercilessly. Guantanamo Bay prison is still open.  He did next to nothing against police brutality. Aside from offering words of condolence and platitudes, his open support for state sanctioned armed gangs is unwavering. If the issue of police brutality doesn’t hit home with him, then perhaps the accusation that he is detached, aloof and professorial isn’t too wide off the mark. Obama has been known to make good speeches at the right times to diffuse whatever overcharged emotions or events we are mired in, but they usually come after the horse has bolted. And reflecting back upon some of them, they sound downright patronizing and preaching. He deported millions of vulnerable undocumented immigrants back to poverty stricken and unsafe countries. Families are torn apart, lives ruined and disrupted, all to prove to Republicans that he’s tough on immigration. But to deflect from that, he granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children and without criminal records a path to citizenship. Obama did all of these things right under our noses and liberals are wiping away their tears as he leaves office today. Some even go so far as to declare Obama one of the best presidents this nation has ever had. That is unclear, what’s for sure is he is the first Black president United States has ever had and he can rest on that laurel. He’ll always be in the history books for that fact alone.

A combination of all of these actions and inactions angered and inflamed an already agitated nation. Worried about job security, the economy and how will anyone afford a decent standard of living anymore, the Democratic party offered the people Hillary Clinton – a neoliberal warmongering Wall Street and corporate shill, against the people’s choice of Bernie Sanders, who for all his shortcomings at least directly addressed the economic anxiety of the people (which the Clinton people turned it into a racist and sexist message as that’s only geared towards white working class men), where as Clinton babbled on and on about an esoteric form of equality which doesn’t address the income inequality and tough foreign policy. The Republican party had its own mayhem and disorder and they produced Donald Trump. Trump dumbed down the message and the American people by selling them a false bill of goods. Make America Great Again (again, what the fuck does that even mean). Trump will kick out the immigrants, build a wall on the southern border, he’ll bring jobs back (how he doesn’t say, employ them at his sleazy hotels?), and out of a better alternative, people fell for it hook, line and sinker. Trump didn’t win this election squarely and fairly, Hillary Clinton got three million more popular votes, but due to the archaic rules of the electoral college, Trump won the election. But the real story is about half of the eligible voters stayed home, couldn’t be arsed to vote. Hillary Clinton couldn’t do what Obama could, which is bring people to the polls, Obama had volunteers drive people to vote if they couldn’t get there on their own. So between the non-voters, third party voters, and the three million popular votes which didn’t count, we got Donald J. Trump as our next president. Liberalism has failed. Neoliberalism has failed. Capitalism has failed and morphed into fascism. Liberals won the cultural war but lost the political battle.

If Obama had only picked up the pitchfork instead of being the barrier to the pitchforks, even if that action failed and he turned out to only be a one term president, he would at least go down in history as not just the first Black president but also a president being on the side of the working people and not the powerful ruling elite.

ACA: So Much for Keeping Your Doctor

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It’s new enrollment season for ACA (Affordable Care Act). It’s time to buy new insurance or switch your insurance or make any type of changes to your insurance. It’s also the time when people hope, with baited breath, nothing changes from the previous year.

I’ve just purchased health insurance off the Exchange for my two children at the rate of $360 per month for both of them. It’s a decent PPO plan with a reasonable deductible, with pretty comprehensive coverage. I could have qualified for federal subsidies, but I chose to forego that and claim my deductions at the end of this year rather than upfront so that I don’t run into problems of certain doctors or providers not accepting my children’s on Exchange insurance. My son at the moment is under the care of several specialists on top his usual pediatrician, I need him to be as well covered as I can afford.

The first shock to my system this year is my pediatrician announced that she is no longer taking individual plans on or off Exchange. She’s only accepting group policies as her in-network. So, this makes my carefully curated and selected insurance policy useless. I am now out-of-network despite my PPO plan. For a simple check up and a vaccination for my two children cost me $757 out of pocket, the billing department from my doctor’s office will submit it to my insurance for out-of-network reimbursement and anything they receive they will refund to me or keep as as ‘credit’ at their office for us to use next time. However, unless a miracle happens, I have to meet my deductible before I get any coverage and/or reimbursement, and I haven’t met my deductible yet. Which then begs the question, what the hell did I get for $360 a month PPO plan that is NOT on the Exchange.

One of the hallmarks or the selling points of Obamacare is 1) It will cost less 2) We can keep our doctor or choose any doctor we like 3) Easy and simple to access. None of those are true. It doesn’t cost less and it won’t cost less in the long run as long as privately held insurance companies are allowed to opt out of the Market Exchange. The Obamacare price model was predicated on insurance companies large and small pooling their resources to form one huge group to offer discounted insurance rates and better comprehensive coverage to patients. This model would work in theory, provided if insurance companies can’t willy nilly opt out when the profits don’t go their way. So far in California, a supposed ‘success’ story of Obamacare; UnitedHealthCare, Aetna and Humana all have opted out of the Market Exchange due to ‘infeasibility’ or translation: not making enough money off of sick people. These also happen to be the three best companies in terms of coverage. And they do not offer individual plans to consumers, they only offer big group plans to employers. Another woman with two small children at the doctor’s office the same time I was covered under the NHL Player’s plan offered by Aetna. Her plan was accepted without a problem. So we are back at where we started, people who are lucky enough to be employed with companies that offer health insurance benefits and are covered under a big group policy get the best access to health care. Everyone else sort of languish between not being able to choose or afford the best care they can get or worse, going on state funded insurance, which can be yanked away by President Elect Donald Trump after January 20th, 2017.

We ‘can’ keep our doctor, provided we pay out of pocket for them. My son who has some immediate health issues he needs to address, all the extras will just have to come out of our pockets. I can’t imagine the stress and anguish of parents with children who have special needs, to have to navigate this income and class driven health care must be disheartening. The whole health care industry is a massive collusion between health insurance companies, big Pharma and state governments who serves as a conduit to allocate those services and resources. State agencies and corporate boards get to decide how medications and health services are allocated, not the actual health care providers. This is a deliberately created scarcity so that health insurance companies and big Pharma with the help and collusion of the government can reap big profits at the expense of sick patients. This is why Universal Healthcare needs to happen and it can’t happen soon enough. The ACA was again, typical of Obama, the slimy fence sitter who wants look like the good guy fulfilling the promise he made to his voters but then not wanting to piss off his corporate donors at the same time. He dangled the Single Payer plan for ten minutes to make it look like this was his original goal but due to ‘factors beyond his control’, he’s unable to implement that. It’s nonsense. We do have a single payer system, for people over 65, it’s called Medicare and guess what, its satisfaction rate from both users and providers consistently rate at 90%, so it works. But the only reason why Medicare lasted this long is because its users are the older white demographic, folks who actually bother to drag themselves to the voting booth for every election, local or national. Politicians know this so they can’t aggressively gut the program yet. But with this new administration along with the shifting demographics from a white majority to a more diverse one in forty years or less, soulless conservatives such as Paul Ryan is looking to turn Medicare into a ‘voucher program’, aka, privatization, aka gutting it, which means the poorest, most vulnerable elderly people will die of diseases which can be easily treated or managed, and worse, die in deplorable undignified conditions. And in light of this, the media is focused on Trump and his alleged prostitutes. Maybe its their goal, so we are so distracted we don’t realize what’s happening to our most prized social services.

City of God (2002) – The Violence of Poverty

It was suggested that I watch City of God after watching Straight Outta Compton, City of God is Straight Outta Compton turbo charged. Straight Outta Compton deals with First World poverty and City of God deals with Third World poverty. While all poverty is ugly and violent, in the Third World there’s an extra layer of hopelessness and despair, a poverty so violent and oppressive that its turned inward and that aggression explodes into outward physical violence.

City of God is a real place, a favela in the outskirts of Rio De Janeiro. In 1960 the government decided to move all of the slum dwellers inside the city to a new housing project away from the city in an effort to ‘clean up’ the city. The residents were provided with housing and basic utilities (water electricity) and education but attendance is not enforced. Other than that they were cut off from government and social agencies, the economy and left to fend for themselves. All the government cared about was that ‘those people’ were out of sight from the Rio city center. Brazil is a racially and ethnically diverse place, but it’s worthy to note that the majority of the residents in the City of God are Afro-Brazilians (black). Brazil is held up as an example of a country where there exists a harmonious relationship between black people and white people (and every shade in between), but Brazil is also one of the countries where the gap between rich and poor is the largest and two-thirds of the poor are Afro-descent. So, yes the black Brazilian may not be randomly stopped and frisked by cops or treated with suspicion on the account of being black, but the black kid goes home to a favela at night and the white kid return to a nice house in the suburbs.

Favela dwellers are usually poor, black, under educated, unemployed and unemployable with no access to the formal economy. Any money or income they derive comes from robbery, stealing or drug dealing. A favela dweller’s chance of getting a proper job with a salary and benefits in the city center is near nil. Those jobs are reserved for the affluent and middle classes, with university degrees. The favela dwellers are the uneccessariat of Brazil. They are surplus army of workers spat out by capitalism. In Brazil’s version of turbo capitalism, they’ve no need for hoodlums. And for a hoodlum to transform into a worker, it’s a near impossible feat. The City of God will always draw you back into the life of an outlaw. One of the tagline of the movie is:

“If you run, the beast catches; if you stay, the beast eats”. 

In other words, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

City of God is a violent film. It’s disturbingly violent, at times it’s overkill. It’s based on a semi autobiographical novel of the same name by Paulo Lins. It is lauded as one of the greatest movies about the world’s poor and what poverty does to people, but one must be able to look past the violence, withhold judgement for a minute  in order to process the message of the movie. The message is poverty is violence. Poverty causes not only misery, death, stress, anxiety but also violence. The grind of having to fend and scavenge for every meal, every life’s necessity will turn the most docile and gentle person into a beast. It is a life of extreme indignity which should not be borne by any human being. To know that your community, your country expects nothing of you but to breed more people like yourself and one day shooting each other to death will turn anyone into beasts. There is no expectation of you ever succeeding in your life besides a life of organized or petty crime.

The narrator of the movie is young man called “Rocket”, he is a photographer for a local newspaper. By luck he has avoided the pitfalls and didn’t become a hoodlum. He was able to finish his primary and secondary education and enter the formal workforce, even as an unpaid photographer. He makes friends and acquaintances who do not live in the favela and has had a taste at normal life. The movie begins as Rocket inadvertently walks into a gang war and he had his new camera on him (given by the newspaper editor) and as he’s photo-documenting the shoot out, he takes us back 20 years to tell us the story of the main characters. He grew up surrounded by crime, petty and organized. The organized crime in the favelas is normally drug dealing; petty crimes include holding up stores, motels, restaurants, gas delivery trucks, anything which involves cash transactions. This is their only economy, the only way for them to have access to any cash, which without, one can’t live.

The gang leader of City of God is a nasty fellow called Little Z, he is a childhood acquaintance of Rocket. Little Z committed his first mass murder before he hit puberty and did so with glee, to show up the older boys who were making fun of him. He took all the money stolen from that mass murder and ‘disappeared’ with his friend Benny. Many thought they died due to their young age but they didn’t, they kept their heads down until they came of age and Little Z came back into the favela with Benny and one by one bumped off his ‘business’ rivals and became the drug kingpin of the City of God. The streets of the favela are so violent that the police enter with caution, and there seems to be an endless stream of weapons. Children as young as 8 or 10 years old have a gun. This is where I find the narrative of the film goes overboard. There is a gang of young boys called The Runts who routinely rob and hit business establishments under Little Z’s control. Wrongly believing that their status as children will protect them from the wrath of Little Z, they couldn’t be more wrong, Little Z to teach those rascals a lesson (to not fuck with Little Z’s interests) forced one child to shoot another or else he’ll die to prove his loyalty to Little Z and to make sure they never try something so stupid again.

This is where I may get accused of having First World middle class privilege. It is my belief that as humans we have some control over our decisions, no matter how small or insignificant. The residents of favelas are controlled by a monster bigger than they. They didn’t choose a life of poverty, indignity and oppression, and should they act out accordingly to redress that, I find those actions justified and mandatory. But asking a child to shoot another child to teach them a lesson is a choice Little Z made out of the monstrosity of his soul. He’s a psychopath. On top of making one kid shoot another, he shot another young child in the foot all for fun, to teach The Runts a lesson. I don’t even expect him to have empathy and think “I was that Runt once”, that’d be asking too much, but he knows that his actions were beyond the pale. Just like when he raped Knockout Ned’s girlfriend because she spurned his advances saying she has a man already, Little Z, feeling insulted, raped her in front of Knockout Ned, and then proceeds to kill Ned’s brother and father and an uncle. This action forces Knockout Ned, who considers himself a ‘worker’ and not a hoodlum to retaliate and get revenge, he joins forces with Carrot, the only white gang leader in the favela and plans to take out Little Z, which results in a massive gang war that Rocket walked in on and documented.

Throughout the film, I kept wondering where on earth did they get their endless supply of weapons. After all, no one goes to the favela unless they live there or they go there to score drugs. We find out it’s none other than the fine policia of Rio De Janeiro. In a deal to get the cops to leave the favela alone an arms deal was struck. Rocket photographed Little Z handing cash over to the police for purchase of weapons. The photograph alone can bring down the local police department, not that it would be a huge shock, Brazil is known for its corruption. The newspaper Rocket interns for, their journalists have never been able to get inside of City of God, and upon finding out Rocket was born and raised there and still lives there, they saw it as an opportunity to get pictures of the gang leaders and gang activity inside the favela. It was a career advancement opportunity for Rocket, even for a lowly paid part time internship, his transformation to ‘worker’ would be complete. He would be legitimate, he’d be part of the formal economy, a contributing member of society – something that capitalism values above all else until they decide they don’t want you anymore.

At the last moment, upon deciding which photos to use for the newspaper front page, instead of choosing the photo of the cops exchanging money with Little Z, which is the real story, he chose to use a picture of Little Z’s dead body in an alleyway somewhere as front page news photo. Signifying the end of an era and beginning of another. Rocket chose his career over exposing the truth. He’s now a participant in the system that oppressed him and his family and friends.

This is a difficult movie to watch, the running time is over two hours, and the directors force you to confront the reality of Third World Poverty, the ugliness, the violence. Usually films about the poor, the director puts a human and loving face on the poor. They are poor but they are kind, they look out for each other, they take care of each other, they are kind to each other; the directors don’t do that here. The people of the favela are nasty and horrid, just like how they grew up. There is very little kindness shown anywhere in the movie. My first gut reaction when half way through the movie is these people wake up, eat, fuck, get high, go commit a crime and do it all over again, everyday. The young men and women try to seek meaningful romantic relationships with each other, but they are obstructed by the forces in City of God. The women want the men to become workers and leave the favela, but where would they go where they can get all their basic necessities met without resorting to violence. These men are unemployable, discarded and ejected from the formal economy. When Benny met a nice girl Angelica not from the favela and as they prepare to leave the favela for good and live a rural farm life, at the farewell party, Blackie’s (another gang leader) gun goes off by accident and kills Benny. But even before a bullet stopped Benny, Little Z tried to stop Benny from leaving, Little Z has no other friend besides Benny, but Benny’s mind was made up. Benny was Little Z’s gatekeeper, when Little Z got too out of hand, Benny would step in and pacify and diffuse the situation, now he was leaving. But sadly, that small desire of living on a farm somewhere with a girl you love was out of reach.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics
You’d rather see, me in the pen
Than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o

Fuck tha Police by NWA 

I avoided watching this film because it is too close to home. I grew up about less than one hour away from Compton California but it might as well be another planet. The children of the middle class suburbs of California know of a place called Compton but it’s to be avoided at all costs. Nice middle class children have no business going to Compton. Anyone who has ‘business’ or acquaintances in Compton is seen as suspect. You only go to Compton for nefarious reasons, you are asking to be mugged, carjacked, shot or killed.

The stereotype of Compton as a gang infested place where it’s an open battle field between the various gangs, when in truth the biggest gang out is the Los Angeles Police Department. As middle class and rich kids were getting high and getting up to no good in the suburbs and behind mansion gates, the LAPD chose to go after poor black families in Compton. Compton is an urban wasteland. Jobs are few, high school drop out rates are high, teenage pregnancy rates are high and premature death rate is also high. A great many people in Compton depend on some sort of public assistance to get by and high school students are often bussed to better school districts to attend high school. O’Shea Jackson (aka Ice Cube) , member of NWA was one of those students. It was a place where people went to rot or be killed, either by gangs or police. There are no hopes and dreams for the residents of Compton, except to get out of Compton and move on to greener pastures. It is no different with NWA.

NWA (Niggaz with Attitude) were born of this environment. They were all boys who were forced to grow up too fast and saw too much in their young lives. In order to survive they adopted the gang culture, the rules of their society. It’s not always pleasant or pretty but it was kill or be killed, there’s no middle ground. While rival gangs battle it out on the streets, they knew who their real enemy is, who the real gangster is. And that’s the brutal fascist force known as the LAPD. Their environment was not such if you stayed out of trouble cops will leave you alone, no, the cops went out of their way to look for trouble when there was none. But the boys of NWA are lucky, they lived to tell the tale. Michael Brown of Ferguson Missouri wasn’t so lucky, neither was Laquan McDonald of Chicago. The cops in Los Angeles during the late 80s weren’t so brazen to open fire and kill people in broad daylight, yet. They have no problem roughing them up, pushing them to the ground, smacking them around, maybe break a few bones; but to put bullets in the back of someone’s head as they are running away? Not yet. As a result, the members of NWA: O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube) Andre Young (Dr. Dre), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby), MC Ren (Lorenzo Patterson) and Arabian Prince (Kim Renard Razel) lived to tell the tale and released their controversial and brilliant album Straight Outta Compton. We all recognize the jam of Fuck tha Police when we hear it, but few really took those words seriously.

Straight Outta Compton doesn’t glorify gang life or made it seem like one easy cake ride or even seen as anything cool or to aspire to. It showed the gritty heartbreaking side of living in gang infested neighborhoods, where no one cares if you lived or died. But it fell short in driving home the radical message of the convergence of capitalism and the necessity of the police state. Ice Cube being the most radical member of the group, had no problem giving it straight, telling it like it is. He doesn’t sugar coat his words or actions. He was accused of anti-Semitism when he mentioned the ethnicity of their former manager in a response to a ‘diss song’, when asked if he was “anti-Jew” he said no, he’s just anti the one Jew Jerry Heller. When a record executive failed pay Ice Cube his royalties at the promised time, after releasing a successful album and after informing the executive that he’s just purchased a home and has a child on the way, and after trying to reason with the record executive and only to get blown off with corporate bullshit (“I am sorry, I love to help but my hands are tied”), Ice Cube comes back with a baseball bat and smashed all of the glass office furniture in the record executive’s office. Ice Cube saw him for what he was, just another thug in a fancy suit inside a fancy office suite, so he reacted like a thug from the streets of Compton not to be messed with. He got his check.

Dr. Dre showed his entrepreneurial side early. He saw the potential for rap music going mainstream before the other group members did. The others originally wanted to make music for the ‘hood. Dr. Dre in Eazy-E saw raw lyrical talent, who could write and produce great rhymes. The members of NWA were a gang of brothers, childhood friends from a rough neighborhood, who were going to tell people outside of Compton what it was like growing up in Compton. But like every monkey wrench in a movement, someone always comes in to divide and conquer. Talent agent Jerry Heller spotted Eazy-E’s talent right away and decided to be his manager only. Through that arrangement Heller could take a bigger piece the pie and he convinced Eazy-E to stall the other guys for as long as he can so they can keep the early profits of the album Straight Outta Compton to themselves longer. Immediately Ice Cube and Dr. Dre knew something wasn’t right, but being a businessman Dr. Dre didn’t want to rock the boat at the wrong time, in the middle of the rise, Ice Cube got into a few verbal confrontations with Heller about a management contract where he would see a piece of the royalties as he’s also wrote a lot of lyrics to their most popular songs including Fuck tha Police; but he was blown off with “it’s being worked on”. But he also bid his time, taking Dr. Dre’s advice.

Heller sand bagged until the other members of NWA were so desperate for a paycheck and that was when he presented each member with a paltry check along with a ‘contract’ of their future earnings. To get the check, all they had to do was ‘sign the contract’. Every one of them signed except for Ice Cube. Dr. Dre knew better than to sign but he had a young child at the time he needed to support and saw no other option. Ice Cube left the group after the promotional tour for Straight Outta Compton and signed with another label and became a successful rapper, actor and producer in his own right. Dr. Dre enlisted the help of the notorious and infamous Suge Knight to look over his contract and realized that he’d been screwed. Suge Knight used his muscle to get Dr. Dre out of that contract and he and Dr. Dre started Death Row Records. While Eazy-E may have looked like he got the best deal, we later find out that wasn’t the case either, his funds were mismanaged by Jerry Heller and he was signing checks and documents without reading them. Eazy-E for a while lost touch with his best friends, which is hard for the sensitive Eazy-E to bear and he later finds out Jerry Heller had been misusing his earnings too, he fired Jerry Heller before his death. NWA, for all their street smarts and raw artistic talent and even natural business acumen, had no knowledge about how contracts were enforced and executed. Never mind not having a law degree, most of them didn’t even graduate high school. When they wanted to consult their own lawyer before signing, Jerry Heller talked them out of it.

Jerry Heller is the sleazy capitalist, dividing and conquering the solidarity of the workers for his own benefit and gain. One of the most compelling scenes in the movie is when they were recording the Straight Outta Compton album in Torrance (a middle class neighborhood of Los Angeles) and while on a smoke break someone called the cops on them, saying there were suspicious gang member looking men loitering outside. A black sergeant showed with with 2 other white cops. The black cop, perhaps he is showing off to his white colleagues and decided to ride the boys of NWA even harder than the white cop. He demanded that they face down on ground and be cuffed and patted down and verbally abused the boys. It was none other than Jerry Heller who came to their rescue. A white man rescuing young black men from the jackboot of a fascist black cop. But that same white man is scheming against young men he’s trying to rescue at the same time. The workers face oppression from both ends, the capitalist and the police force which enforces the capitalist system.

The first half of the movie carried the message of how capitalism doesn’t foster creativity and growth, it kills it via divide and conquer. The climax of the movie is when NWA was warned by Detroit PD that if they perform the song Fuck tha Police, they’d all be arrested and jailed for inciting a riot. The police were more concerned about their reputation and not about keeping the peace at the concert venue. Of course no one in the audience was going to incite a riot over that song, the police was going to incite a riot and make it look like NWA did it. No self-respecting artists would adhere to those demands, so not only did NWA perform Fuck tha Police, they performed with extra passion. In that sequence we see  police departments for what it is, just another cog in the capitalism machine. Soldier men carrying out orders for the capitalists to protect their interests and property. The authority of the police only work if the general public accepts and respects the authority, otherwise they are just a bunch of assholes with a gun and badge and someone else with a gun can overpower them retaliate. Police departments do not exist to protect and serve the general public, just the rich against the poor.

The second half of the 2 hour and 30 minute movie went against what the first half was trying to portray. The second half of the movie depicts how Dr. Dre started his own successful label after leaving NWA with Suge Knight, but when things went really wrong with Death Row Records (due to illegal activities of Knight) he was smart enough to walk away with nothing. He let Suge Knight keep all the artists, their contracts, masters and future earnings. The movie didn’t say so, but Suge Knight is long known to be a LAPD informant, a snitch; going against him can bring on serious trouble for yourself. Dr. Dre decided it was better to start over than to get dumped in a ditch somewhere. Fast forward to 2017, Dr. Dre is a superstar producer and multi-millionaire, Ice Cube is a well respected actor, rapper and producer and a millionaire. Eazy-E tragically died of AIDS in 1995 but before he died he reconnected and made up with his old friends from the hood, after he fired Jerry Heller and reformed NWA.

One note about the actor who played Ice Cube in the movie. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the real Ice Cube, even the timbre of his voice, the way he spoke, down to the minute mannerisms; it was as if Ice Cube himself went back 25 years in time to play a younger version of himself. When the movie was over and the credits rolled, it turns out it was O’Shea Jackson Jr aka Ice Cube Jr who played the role of his father. Jackson Jr didn’t just mimic his father in the movie, he transformed into his father.

The members of NWA didn’t set out to be radicals or even controversial, they just wanted to tell their truth to the world. They warned us about the abuses of police in 1988, many didn’t take them seriously, dismissing them as a bunch of thugs and that’s why the police targeted them. Fast forward to 2015 when the movie was released, after the deaths of Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice and countless others; “Fuck tha Police”.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt: By Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco

If we need proof that America was never great to begin with, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco is that proof. This book doesn’t go as far back as the 1800s to the days of slavery, not even the 1960s during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, this book is a current account of the abuses of the US government against the citizens and people of this country.

Hedges and Sacco visit Pine Ridge Reservation South Dakota, Camden New Jersey, Welch West Virginia, Immokalee Florida, Liberty Square New York (Occupy Wall Street). Their reporting on these places took place in the last few decades, some as recent as the last five years. The people who gave testimony to their suffering are still alive and still suffering from the abuses of the American corporate class sanctioned by the government.

Those of us who are still lucky enough to be in the top 25% of the upper-middle class often wonder how we can impart to our children how the other 75% live, without going into long winded lectures about the starving children in Africa which would then solicit eye rolls, they can read this book. It is very easy to read, there are many illustrations, it’s written in a novel-like narrative style without jargon, what’s more, after reading this book, I can bring my children to visit these places. They still exist. The suffering of these places still exist (except Occupy Wall Street protests), the people who are suffering still exist.

The places Hedges and Sacco chose represent pockets of forgotten America. Pine Ridge Reservation represents all the Indigenous Americans suffering, languishing and forgotten on ill maintained and underfunded reservations, where poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction have blighted whole families and whole communities. Family social services on Pine Ridge Reservation are overwhelmed and underfunded with scores of families needing assistance with alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and domestic abuse caused by the genocidal policies of the US government. Camden New Jersey represents urban decay, the urban poor in America’s major cities. Those hidden in plain sight who are forgotten, ignored and deliberately overlooked in favor of more attractive demographics and locales. And when it suits local politicians, the urban poor are trotted out like show ponies during election time as a pawn or tool to get votes and after the election they are put back in their urban prison forgotten and neglected again. Immokalee Florida represents the rural farm migrant workers from Mexico and Central America, who are literally working in slave like conditions, with sub-minimum wage, long brutal hours in the hot sun, in unsafe conditions handling hazardous materials, so that the rest of us can purchase groceries at reasonable prices. If American farm workers were paid the minimum wage with 8 hour work days and overtime pay, these huge industrialized farms would go out of business or the price of food would be unaffordable to even more people and government would have to subsidize part of the cost of food. Welch West Virginia represents the white rural poor, coal mining communities, people referred to as hicks and rednecks with missing teeth and can barely string a proper sentence together, derided by the liberals and exploited by conservatives. Mining by blowing off the mountain tops with dynamite and heavy machinery to strip coal instead of using human labor to dig for coal has devastated the region. It is devastating not just in economic terms, but environmentally as well. The water from most of Southern West Virginia are undrinkable, their air is polluted with soot, dust and noxious chemicals produced from blowing off the mountain tops. Where there used to be over 140,000 coal mining jobs are now reduced to under 15,000. Residents who fight back against the environmental warfare unleashed upon them are forced to choose between further economic ruin or health and environmental ruin. It has divided the residents of these communities, which is just what the big coal companies want, divide and conquer so they can take everything while everyone is fighting each other, dying from lung disease, cancer or drug and alcohol addiction. Also, the Appalachian mountains are some of the most beautiful parts of this country. West Virginia was one of the most picturesque and lush states but now with coal companies blowing off the mountain tops to extract coal, arial views of West Virginia Appalachia show vast craters of dirt where there used to be mountains. Big coal companies have raped the land, left it exposed, filled it with toxic waste and chemicals and people dying in big numbers. These are what Hedges and Sacco call Sacrifice Zones, sacrificed at the alter of capitalism.

These four pockets of America consist of people the government, now almost entirely controlled by corporate interests have forgotten, left behind and wish would disappear so that they don’t have to figure out what to do with them. Indigenous Americans, just let them drink to death. The residents of Camden, make their conditions so miserable, they’ll just kill each other. The undocumented aliens and migrant workers, work them to death or make their living and working conditions so unbearable that they’ve no energy left to protest and returning to their home countries isn’t possible either because then they’d all starve. Former coal mining communities of West Virginia either put up with poisoned air and water and meet a slow and painful death from lung disease or cancer or they can drink, drug themselves to death; either way, they get out of the way and won’t complain about how their pristine mountains are being blown off, how their water and air are being poisoned and those still with houses and property left are now virtually worthless because of the polluted surroundings.

The ruling class used to at least try and placate and patronize the working class, the unnecessariats and throw them a few crumbs here and there, now they don’t even bother, they provide ways for them to die and disappear; the faster the better. The Republicans don’t care what happens to brown migrant workers, Indigenous Americans and the suffering of black people, and they prey on the the social conservatism of Appalachian coal miners to get their votes and then abandon them to the big coal corporations when the election is over. The liberal elite on the surface care about women and minorities if only to further their neoliberal agenda, but they’ve totally written off the working class white people as a lot of ignorant, racist, bigoted, toothless folk who were born white but didn’t capitalize on their privilege and instead sat in their parents basement and moaned about how immigrants stole their jobs. The Democratic party, the party they used to look to for some releif is now turning against them too, deriding their ignorance and backwardness, blaming them for their own misfortune.

The Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, 2011 in New York City. The protesters attempted to physically Occupy Wall Street as a protest to the economic havoc it wreaked on Americans and the world, the chickens have come home to roost at the scene of the crime:

The devastation on Pine Ridge, in Camden, in southern West Virginia, and in the Florida produce fields has worked its way upward. The corporate leviathan has migrated with the steady and ominous thud of destruction from the outer sacrifice zones to devour what remains. The vaunted American dream, the idea that life will get better, that progress is inevitable if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by a hard and bitter truth. The American dream, we now know, is a lie. We will all be sacrificed. The virus of corporate abuse— the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters— has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plague our communities with foreclosures and unemployment. This virus has brought with it a security and surveillance state that seeks to keep us all on a reservation. No one is immune. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner, or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We are next. The indifference we showed to the plight of the underclass, in Biblical terms our neighbor, haunts us. We failed them, and in doing so we failed ourselves. We were accomplices in our own demise. Revolt is all we have left. It is the only hope.

Hedges, Chris; Sacco, Joe (2014-04-08). Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Kindle Locations 3100-3109). Nation Books. Kindle Edition.

The history books in the school curriculum are complete lies. They teach our children that slavery was a thing of the past and the human rights abuses towards minorities ended during The Civil Rights Movement and that this country has learned from its mistakes and are at a new dawn. This is patently untrue. On top of migrant produce workers working in appalling conditions, millions of Americans are enslaved to wages, the meagre wages of most American wage workers do not earn enough to eat, live and enjoy life. The ruling class has indoctrinated the masses to believe that only the 1% and the upper middle class deserve leisure because they have the disposable income to do so. The rest of us need to work to death because to demand a government that provide its people with enough to eat, live and enjoy life is a mark of entitlement and laziness. The crimes perpetrated against Indigenous Americans are far from over, they are still ongoing as evidenced by the North Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock. The US government has broken almost every treaty made with Indigenous Americans and even after they were given sovereignty over their reservations, that didn’t stop big corporations from trying to loot the resources on their lands through legal loopholes. The mayor of Camden New Jersey has no control over how tax dollars allocated for Camden is spent, that is determined by the state of New Jersey, whose politics is dictated by corrupt individuals like George Norcross and Chris Christie who’s aim as governor was to divest from poorer New Jersey neighborhoods and then transfer the wealth to middle and upper class towns. The poorer neighborhoods tend to predominately be black or brown neighborhoods too. In the produce fields of Florida and California, scores of migrants and their families slave away in deplorable conditions picking our fruits and vegetables so that the legal residents of America can have access to cheaper groceries. In the coal fields of West Virginia, the coal companies, in collusion with corrupt and bribed local judges will not stop until every last ounce of coal is stripped from the mountains, and they won’t quit until every inch of land and water is contaminated with toxic waste. They don’t care what happens to the people living their nor the environment. 

The truth is, a country founded on land theft and genocide and made itself prosperous on the backs of slaves, could never be great, could never have been great. The country was perhaps founded on some good ideals but those rights didn’t extend to everybody. It’s especially even more erroneous to think that this country is on a path to greatness.