Category Archives: Idiocy

Steve Benson: It makes political scents


Some bad news for a garrulous Arizona lawman, via the editorial cartoonist of the Arizona Republic:

BLOG Benson

Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who wants to bring justice back to the 18th Century, may be headed for the slammer, thanks to the ruling of a federal judge who finally had enough of the 84-year-old bigoted blowhard.

Just who is Arpaio?

From a 2009 New Yorker profile by William Finnegan:

The biggest part of the sheriff’s job is running the jails, and Arpaio saw that there was political gold to be spun there. The voters had declined to finance new jail construction, and so, in 1993, Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” he told me. Phoenix is an open-air blast furnace for much of the year. Temperatures inside the tents hit a hundred and thirty-five degrees. Still, the tents were a hit with the public, or at least with the conservative majority that voted. Arpaio put up more tents, until Tent City jail held twenty-five hundred inmates, and he stuck a neon “VACANCY” sign on a tall guard tower. It was visible for miles.

His popularity grew. What could he do next? Arpaio ordered small, heavily publicized deprivations. He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper. Meals were cut to two a day, and Arpaio got the cost down, he says, to thirty cents per meal. “It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates,” he told me. Jail, Arpaio likes to say, is not a spa—it’s punishment. He wants inmates whose keenest wish is never to get locked up again. He limits their television, he told me, to the Weather Channel, C-SPAN, and, just to aggravate their hunger, the Food Network. For a while, he showed them Newt Gingrich speeches. “They hated him,” he said cheerfully. Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. “So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.”

Arpaio wasn’t kidding about chain gangs. Foreign television reporters couldn’t get enough footage of his inmates shuffling through the desert. New ideas for the humiliation of people in custody—whom the Sheriff calls, with persuasive disgust, “criminals,” although most are actually awaiting trial, not convicted of any crime—kept occurring to him. He put his inmates in black-and-white striped uniforms. The shock value of these retro prisoner outfits was powerful and complex. There was comedy, nostalgia, dehumanization, even a whiff of something annihilationist. He created female chain gangs, “the first in the history of the world,” and, eventually, juvenile chain gangs. The chain gangs’ tasks include burying the indigent at the county cemetery, but mainly they serve as spectacles in Arpaio’s theatre of cruelty. “I put them out there on the main streets,” he told me. “So everybody sees them out there cleaning up trash, and parents say to their kids, ‘Look, that’s where you’re going if you’re not good.’ “ The law-and-order public loved it, and the Sheriff’s fame spread. Rush Limbaugh praised him, and blurbed his book. Phil Donahue berated him.

Racial profiling for immigrant leads to citation

What landed Arpaio is legal hot water was his decision to turn his local local enforcement agent into a ruthless machine for tracking down immigrants.

Which is odd, because immigration violations are federal, not state, crimes.

But hunting down brown people played big with his political base, exploiting the same fears and sensation a certain presidential candidate would later pursue — a candidate Arpaio has endorsed, telling Fox News “He’s our only savior right now.”

The latest from the New York Times:

A federal judge on Friday referred Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his second-in-command for criminal prosecution, finding that they ignored and misrepresented to subordinates court orders designed to keep the sheriff’s office from racially profiling Latinos.

In making the referral to the United States attorney’s office for criminal contempt charges, Judge G. Murray Snow of Federal District Court in Phoenix delivered the sharpest rebuke against Mr. Arpaio, who as the long-serving sheriff in Maricopa County made a name for himself as an unrelenting pursuer of undocumented immigrants.

Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan “have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case,” Judge Snow wrote in his order.

Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Sheridan had also made numerous false statements under oath, Judge Snow wrote, and “there is also probable cause to believe that many if not all of the statements were made in an attempt to obstruct any inquiry into their further wrongdoing or negligence.”

More from the Arizona Republic:

Snow’s decision, announced in a federal court filing, answers the key question that loomed over more than a year of contempt proceedings: Was the sheriff’s disregard of orders a criminal or civil contempt-of-court violation?

But it creates a whole new set of legal questions for the embattled lawman.

  • Will the U.S. Attorney’s Office accept the recommendation?
  • What will the charge be?
  • If Arpaio is found guilty, will a conviction legally force him to resign?
  • Could Arpaio end up behind bars?
  • Will Snow’s decision affect Arpaio’s odds for a seventh term?

Reached for comment Friday evening, Arpaio said he hadn’t yet read the order but that it was being reviewed by his attorneys.

UPDATE: We found the perfect song for Sheriff Joe, sung in California’s Folsom Prison by the one and only Johnny Cash:

Johnny Cash — I Got Stripes

Corporations pay no Olympic taxes; winners do


If the Olympics were portrayed as they really are, its corporations who would be the gold medal winners.

As for the athletes, well, they’re the losers — especially the ones who won.

First, the corporate winners, via teleSUR English [emphasis added]:

The exemption, which lasts until Dec. 31, 2017, excludes from taxes revenue generated by advertising, product sales, imports and any other activity related to the organization of the games.

“It is yet another manifestation of the privileges that multinationals worldwide have today,” said Antonio Martins, director of the alternative Brazilian news outlet Outras Palavras. “And it’s not an isolated event, which is limited to a sports mega event,” he told the BBC.

Brazil has 37 million people living in extreme poverty, its economy is currently in recession and the interim government of Senate-imposed President Michel Temer has approved a fiscal austerity program. Meanwhile, the country is expected to lose about a billion dollars in tax revenue thanks to the exemption, according to BBC.

According to Naomi Fowler of the Tax Justice Network, the tax exemption on corporations is a precondition forced on any candidate to host a world sport event.

And the losers are. . .the winners

At least that’s the case for American athletes

From BBC News:

American Olympians are subject to a so-called “victory tax” – a tax on both the money they receive from the Olympic committee for winning and on the value of the Olympic medal.

What are they taxed on?

US athletes who win a medal at the Rio games will take home the hardware and a cash bonus from the US Olympic Committee.

Gold medallists will receive $25,000, silver medallists get $15,000, and bronze winners earn $10,000.

Those winnings are taxed as income, the same way Americans are taxed on other prize money, like lottery winnings. Most countries exempt their athletes from these taxes.

So, let’s see if we’ve got this right.

Corporations, who get to use the Olympics to peddle their wares and make huge profits from sales at the events, get off without paying taxes, while the athletes, the very reason for the Olympics, are thoroughly taxed.

Anyone see anything wrong with this?

Trump’s racist idiocy and the Baltimore police


Following up on the previous post comes a blistering takedown of the latest idiocy from Donald Trump, with the Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah contrasting a call by the Donald for black support and his declaration that more police was the solution for black community problems with the brutal reality of embedded in culture and policies of the Baltimore Police Department.

It may be the best thing Noah’s done thus far.

From The Daily Show with Trevor Noah:

The Daily Show – Uncovering Discrimination at the Baltimore Police Department

Program notes:

After Donald Trump calls for heavier policing in African American neighborhoods, Trevor examines racial bias within the Baltimore Police Department.

California history, marketed as a teardown home


There’s a house for sale in Pacific Palisades, one of the most exclusive communities in the Los Angeles area. It’s located at 1550 San Remo Drive, just a two-minute drive from the house at 1669 San Onofre Drive, where esnl interviewed Nancy Reagan in 1979 as her husband was running for president.

The home on San Remo is now up for sale and the asking price is a mere $14,995,000. Here’s how the broker, Coldwell Banker, describes the property [emphasis added]:

First time on the market in almost 65 years! Park-like grounds with lush forest solitude on almost a full FLAT ACRE on one of the most desired streets in the Pacific Palisades Riviera. Extreme privacy surrounded by mature trees and landscaping provides amazing serenity coupled with incredible city lights views. Create your dream estate or remodel and expand the existing home in the ultra-exclusive upper Riviera neighborhood. It’s like living in your own private reserve!

There’s only one thing missing from the enthusiastic sales pitch.

Unlike the Reagan’s home, which was a gift from General Electric, given to the future president in 1955 as a reward for Reagan’s role as a corporate shill after his cinematic career hit the skids, the home on San Remo was built and paid for by the labors of Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning author of some of the most important works of fiction of the 20th Century.

The artist in exile

Mann had fled Hitler’s Germany to take up residence in the United States, settling into his new home in the Palisades to do what he did best, write.

It was within these walls that he created what may be arguably his finest work, Doctor Faustus, a powerful novel encompassing the trends of the early 20th Century that gave rise to fascism.

As playwright and poet Sean O’Brien wrote in an essay on the novel for the Independent:

It is a novel of ideas of a kind rarely found in English, but sees thought and art as inseparable from character. It is in a sense the story of the early 20th century in the light of Fascism and modernism, yet neither history nor the individual is sacrificed to allegory.

Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study. Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study, via the Literaturarchiv und Bibliothek in Munich..

Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study. Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study, via the Literaturarchiv und Bibliothek in Munich..

The media take note

But now Coldwell Banker is peddling it as a teardown, valuable mainly for the land it occupies.

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Although the language in the listing — “Create your dream estate or remodel and expand the existing home in the ultra-exclusive upper Riviera neighborhood” — hedges its bets a bit, Joyce Rey, the agent representing the seller, was more direct in a phone interview, saying she had a hard time imagining that any potential buyers would be interested in its history.

“The value is in the land,” she said. “The value is not really in the architecture, I would say.”

>snip<

The house is not one of L.A.’s official historic-cultural monuments, though it is listed as a “historic resource” in a larger inventory called SurveyLA. A new citywide ordinance requires that owners seeking to demolish houses older than 45 years provide notice to neighbors and the local city council office at least 30 days in advance. But in general there are limited protections for most residential buildings in Los Angeles, even those with notable architectural pedigrees.

Rey said the seller, whom she declined at least for the time being to identify, was not interested in opening the house to preservationists or journalists.

The home is notable in its own right, designed for Mann by fellow German emigre J.R. Davidson, one of the seminal figures in creating the L.A. style of architecture that resulted in some of the region’s most influential designs of the mid-20th Century.

He was first to create homes with floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors, features that would become virtually standard in California’s temperate climate.

Mann and his family outside their San Remo Drive home. Source.

Mann and his family outside their San Remo Drive home. Source.

Reaction from Germany comes fast and furious

Needless to say, the German cultural community is outraged. All of Mann’s European homes have been spared the wrecking ball and are revered as national landmarks, a designation which somehow was never sought for his home on the California coast.

Deutsche Welle reports:

Despite the home’s outward appearance, Jürgen Kaumkötter, curator of the recently founded Center for Persecuted Arts in Solingen#, says the villa should be saved at all costs. He’s gone so far as to demand that the German government buy the property in order to prevent the demolition of this historical house.

“The building could serve as a meeting ground for young writers,” Kaumkötter said, “perhaps in combination with the Villa Aurora (the former home of German-Jewish novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger)” If Germany wants to have an international outlook, it should also provide some room for critical thinkers.

That view is echoed by Jürgen Serke, a Hamburg-based collector of art and literature and the author of “Die verbrannten Dichter” (“Burned poets”). He thinks German Culture Minister Monika Grütters should give the idea some thought; in his view, there is plenty of money to finance this proposal. He believes a demolition of the villa would be a great shame for Germany, with Mann being the most significant German author of the 20th century.

>snip<

The lawyer who purchased the house from the Mann couple when they returned to Europe in 1952 knew quite well that what he had bought was an important site for German culture and intellectual history. He marked the spot with a bronze plaque featuring a profile of Thomas Mann, explaining in English and German the significance of the home.

In Los Angeles, land in rich enclaves like the Palisades is often “worth: more than the homes occupying it, and some of the city’s greatest and most significant houses and other buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball.

To allow Mann’s home to follow that same tragic trajectory would nothing less than sinful.

Headline of the day: Having his senior moment


The front page of today’s New York Daily News:

BLOG Headlne

Rabid Rudy suffers Trump-induced amnesia


How else to explain that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani seems to have forgotten the city’s most traumatic event.

You know. . .

A little thing we call 9/11. . .

A thing that happened while he was mayor. . .

From the Associated Press:

Rudolph Giuliani, promoting Donald Trump’s national security plan, said Monday that in the “eight years before (President Barack) Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States.” That’s an apparent omission of the largest terror attack in United States history.

Giuliani was mayor of New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 and in the hours after the World Trade Center fell, while then-President George W. Bush was largely unseen, he became the face of American grief and determination. His brave and graceful performance in the weeks after the towers’ collapse earned him the nickname “America’s mayor” and he was soon launched into national political stardom, his name synonymous with the response to the attacks. That made his comments Monday all the more puzzling.

“Under those eight years, before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States. They all started when Clinton and Obama got into office,” Giuliani said ahead of Trump’s speech on national security.

The eyebrow-raising comments, which were immediately lampooned on social media, were a far cry from Giuliani’s usual speeches, which are often peppered with references to the resolve New Yorkers displayed after the attacks. In fact, his discussions of the attacks were so common that Vice President Joe Biden once said of him there were “only three things he mentions in a sentence: A noun, a verb and 9/11.”

UPDATE: One of the tweets inspired by Rudy’s outburst:

BLOG Rudy

Headline of the day: When spooks go very wrong


From the Intercept:

The Raid

  • In Bungled Spying Operation, NSA Targeted Pro-Democracy Campaigner
  • Tony Fullman is a middle-aged former tax man and a pro-democracy activist. But four years ago, a botched operation launched by New Zealand spies meant he suddenly found himself deemed a potential terrorist — his passport was revoked, his home was raided, and he was placed on a top-secret National Security Agency surveillance list.