Current Invective: A Crank's Chronology



Hartford, Connecticut * Gadfly Bites from Stephen Fournier * steve at stepfour dot see oh em

2020 vision

November 10, 2019

I have a legislative agenda for the coming year. It's a list of things government--state, local, national--could do in the public interest, but can't do without upsetting the sponsors. They're items for inclusion in a fictional political platform. As far as I know, no candidate for any office advocates any of my intiatives.

We should have a law requiring retailers to itemize the cost of packaging. Toilet paper doesn't get double-wrapped in plastic without any cost to the customer, and it doesn't get wrapped that way for the convenience of the customer, either. You're paying for shrink wrap and styrofoam, and you deserve to be reminded of that. This law could be extended to cover disposable items other than packaging. How much did you pay for what you threw away when the fuel or the ink ran out? Maybe if people discover how much that plastic bottle is costing them, I'll be able someday to put coins in a dispenser and fill my own milk bottle or coffee can.

We should have a law that forbids courts from imposing "gag" rules on settlements of cases involving misconduct. It's routine today in the settlement of damage lawsuits to impose on the victim, as a condition of payment, limits on what he or she can say about the award. The point is to keep the public from knowing the extent of the damage done by offending parties. This is particularly useful for serial offenders (like sexual predators, for instance), and it guarantees that such settlements won't deter future misconduct, one of the functions of justice as we know it.

This country needs quorum democracy. I would support a law requiring voters to turn out on election day or forfeit the right to choose their representatives. In districts that failed to turn out at a specified threshold, members from districts that met the threshhold would choose their representatives for them.

Can't we slap a tax on advertising? In my state, we're taxed on every purchase, including purchases of some services, but not advertising. This is a shame because it's everywhere and it's one of the most annoying features of modern life. Most advertising is so crass as to border on vice. There has to be a considerable cash stream to tap into here. Let's start with robocalls. I'd make it possible for numbers on the so-called "do-not-call registry" to collect a fine for unwanted solicitations and let government take a piece of the fine by way of tax. A tax on TV advertising seems way overdue.

Free public ground transportation would solve a lot of problems. The subsidies required would be a tiny fraction of what we now spend on war, and the savings in fuel and environmental damage would be huge.

I would consider supporting a law allowing a defense to a charge of homicide if the person killed was above the law and exercising lethal force. Call it justifiable assassination, and add it to the list of legal justifications for taking a life. Historians tell of an event in 1944 in which a group of German army officers conspired to assassinate Hitler and almost succeeded. Many lives might have been spared if the despot had died that day. Under our laws, such an assassination would be a crime. Maybe it shouldn't be. I'd like to think there was a deterrent for people like Hitler, and this might be just the thing.

We need more laws allowing public sector industry to compete with private business. California recently adopted a law that will permit government entities to engage in banking, and several presidential candidates are talking about replacing private health insurance with government guarantees. Let's take back what's been privatized--corrections, education, public administration--and extend the movement to cover car insurance, health care, food distribution, electric utilities, and other industries, as needed.

Crusading lawyers might appreciate a law allowing courts to take property used irresponsibly into receivership. There is no logical reason why offending businesses couldn't be managed in the public interest--and even profitably--by people other than their owners. Public agencies are occasionally taken into receivership, and bankrupt parties are often forced to submit to management by creditors. This is not all that radical, and it could form the foundation for a system to facilitate and finance takeover of private business by employees, customers, neighbors and combinations thereof.

We desperately need compulsory adult education. The dumbing-down has cost us. It's given us inferior products, incompetent leadership, bad music and art, mass illiteracy and a decline in standards, across the board. I'm not sure how we get people on a path to self-improvement, but I suspect any move in that direction would be welcome in most places.

I won't be disappointed if none of these agenda items is ever given consideration. My expectations are low, and so my disappointment threshold is high.

Also, pick up a copy of my book Current Invective: A Crank's Chronology, $16 from Amazon. Two hundred sixty rants--400 pages--from 2007 to now. It's a book that can be read backwards.

In Case You Missed It

September 10, 2019

Stephen Colbert and most of the rest of the commercial news/entertainment media are upset over Trump's announcement of plans to make peace with our current enemies in Afghanistan just as we're about to mark the 18th anniversary of the pretext for that conflict on September 11. So sharp was the criticism that Trump aborted the peace effort. The critics aren't saying what date might be acceptable for an agreement to end the bloodshed, but any date in September seems to be out of the question, this month being reserved for somber reflection.

As in Septembers past, media reflection does not include any discussion of what actually happened on September 11, 2001. In New York City, where the main event took place, three skyscrapers fell down because two got hit by airplanes. Over two thousand people were inside the tallest of the buildings when they were reduced to dust about an hour after the initial impacts. The third building, half a block away and not penetrated by an airplane, fell down hours later with nobody inside. If that strikes you as a reason for further investigation, you're not alone, but you wouldn't know that if you rely on the mass media for news. According to one item of unreported news, a little more than half of a polling sample watching video of the collapse of that third building thought it was intentionally demolished and not the result of fire, as our government maintains. Three thousand architects and engineers have organized to correct the government's account, but news-mongers refuse to acknowledge them.

Also absent from tomorrow's anniversary observances will be any mention of the lawsuit now pending in federal court to force the FBI to reinvestigate the events of that day. The lawsuit demands a decree requiring the FBI to comply with a legal mandate that it assess any evidence not considered by the official 9/11 inquiry, specifically, evidence that World Trade Center buildings one, two and seven were brought down by explosive demolition. Witnesses' reports of explosions in the buildings before their collapse, along with evidence of incendiaries and explosives in the dust afterwards, were never properly investigated, as the complaint explicitly charges.

Another item censored out of tomorrow's news is the release of a report by a team of scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, demonstrating that the third building to fall down in New York could not have collapsed because of fire. The authors, including the chairman of the university's civil engineering department, have invited the public to comment on the report. They may be overly optimistic in their expectation that the public will ever find out that the report exists.

Don't expect any news updates on the status of a federal grand jury that was supposed to have been assembled to initiate a formal investigation of the events of September 11. The authors of a demand on the U. S. Attorney for New York City have petitioned the federal district court there to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the federal prosecutor to report whether he's actually convened a grand jury in compliance with their demand. Law buffs might like to know just how and why so much of the physical evidence of the buildings' failure could have been removed so promptly and completely from the crime scene. News-mongers seem disinclined to ask.

Instead of information on any of these events or the mysteries they address, we news-consumers will have to be content with tearful memorials, interspersed with spates of Arab-bashing, all accompanied by thoughts and prayers for the departed and their survivors.

No Big Deal

August 13, 2019

News hounds, if there are any left in commercial journalism, must be straining the leash to follow the trail left by the Epstein suicide. Because Epstein stopped existing while in police custody, the public may not trust law enforcement authorities with his case, leaving the mass media to investigate the professional pedophile's network of important and influential people. You might think a news story like this, with celebrities, sexual misconduct, blackmail, obscene wealth, espionage, and murder, would send reporters into a feeding frenzy.

You might think that, but you would be wrong. Having cleansed their ranks of reporters who refused to repeat that three buildings fell down in New York City because two got hit by airplanes, the media are left with a gaggle of idiots. Unwilling to put their high salaries at risk, the remains of the mass media are handling this story with the greatest caution. They thought they'd buried the Epstein/Trump/Maxwell/Clinton/Dershowitz saga eleven years ago. No celebrities were hurt then, and it looks like they're going to remain standing once again, with the principal connection they shared safely stashed in a box

It's not just famous rich people who were put at risk. The story that seemed to be shaping up, fitting neatly with everything we've learned so far, featured a blackmail-generating "honey trap," offering teenaged hookers to high-status gentlemen and operated by espionage agents of a foreign government, namely Israel, with which Epstein, Maxwell, Clinton and Dershowitz all had close ties. The threat of exposure was used to influence public policy decisions. You'd have to be a rabid anti-Semite to publish something like that, and anti-Semites are not welcome in the embedded mass media, so this chapter of the story will be buried with Jeffrey's corpse.

We used to be surprised when our leaders turned out to be crooks, but now we take it for granted that they're corrupt, suspecting that they may be recruited for their sociopathic skills. What we may not realize is that they're vetted for blackmailability before they can attract their first campaign contribution. This explains some of the bizarre positions they take on issues like war and inequality.

Trump turned out to be a bust for the blackmailers because everybody already knew he was a crook when he declared his candidacy. Half his support came from people who wanted a racketeer in the White House, and other half came from people who thought Trump's opponent was even more corrupt than he is. The only question in the case of corrupt public officials like the Epstein entourage is whether they're more corrupt than the news-mongers who are supposed to unmask them.

Don't hold your breath waiting to find out what Epstein and company really did or what really happened to him. What you'll get instead is a choice of narratives, ranging from the one promoted by the mass media, that he strangled himself in his jail cell when nobody was looking, to the one that has him living in luxury in Tel Aviv with a new, improved identity. Rule of thumb: select the narrative that differs most from whatever NPR is peddling.

Finger Point

August 10, 2019

When the mass media want to discredit an assignment of blame, they call it finger-pointing. Usually, when that phrase is employed, the finger points at the USA or some favored corporate entity, somebody the news-monger would rather not offend. If the target's not among our assigned enemies--North Korea, say (or, in a big turnaround, Jeffrey Epstein)--reporters are obliged to go easy (as they did for a decade with pedophile Epstein and his rich friends). It's part of the natural bias of news-reporting.

That doesn't mean ordinary people shouldn't assign blame, even when it falls on favored people and institutions. If a case can be made for culpability for society's ills, it probably should be. Certainly, there's no one factor responsible for any major failure, but if there's a patently culpable party, we should know about it.

Take war, for instance. The USA is unique in the world, maybe in all of world history, for its application of armed force and its expenditure of resources on weapons. Who's responsible for this? We could blame the politicians, but we citizens empowered them. We could blame the weapons industry, but they simply perform the contracts the politicians give them. We could blame our opponents in the world, but none of them causes nearly the destruction we do. We might justifiably blame ourselves if we weren't so stupefyingly ignorant of our situation. Do we actually have any idea what our soldiers, sailors and airmen do? How would we? Information about our armed forces is carefully edited out of our news. Coincidentally, the same editors that keep us from knowing what our military's doing also raise holy hell against anybody who criticizes the use or threat of armed force. Exactly when and how a permanent state of war became an acceptable condition among newsmen is a question to ponder, but killing in war is tolerated pretty much universally. Clearly, the flag-waving, sensation-peddling commercial mass media--not just in their news function, but in their entertainment and advertising functions, too--are responsible for war.

How about addiction? Who's responsible for that? The addicts certainly get most of the blame, right? Just because you consider yourself a useless loser because you can't make enough money to pay your bills or can't carry on an intelligent conversation or can't enjoy the routine of your life or can't free yourself from constant worry, that's no reason to take drugs, right? I mean, if you read the paper or watch TV, it's one smiling face after another. If you're low down, it's your own fault, seems to be the message. It's win/win for the mass media here, because having convinced you you're defective, they promote food, drugs and cosmetics that can make you whole. Here again, the commercial mass media--their news and entertainment and advertising functions--seem to be responsible for additiction.

Who's responsible for racism? "It's not what we're about," said the mayor of El Paso, Texas, after a young white guy shot down a crowd of dark-skinned shoppers with a military-style rifle. Actually, this is exactly what we're about.Shooting, bombing, and otherwise terrorizing dark-skinned people is our stock in trade. We kill them in Somalia. We kill them in Libya. We kill them in Yemen. We're OK with that. Ask any newsman. Nonwhite life is cheap in the news business, where you will never hear any mention of the disproportionate toll of US brutality on dark-skinned people. The lesson is not lost on dark-skinned people. They point the finger at the mass media for degrading them.

Material inequality is a problem, Who's responsible for that? There's a dozen or so people with half the world's wealth. What do you suppose they do with all that? You won't find out from your mass media. There's business news that's fed like pablum to reporters, but what they don't tell you is anything that might evoke preljudice against rich people and their acolytes. They could have told you another Boeing 737 was going to crash after one crashed in Indonesia, but they didn't. People with money, who share ownership of Boeing, would have been hurt, so the Indonesia crash--over 100 killed--was ignored, and we found out the plane was defective after the second one took a fatal nosedive in Ethiopia. But didn't these same media tell you this or that business is overtaxed or overregulated? That the profits of the weapons trade would trickle down to you? That the economy is in recovery? Rich people got richer, and why didn't you read about how that happened in your local paper? We could, as a nation, have been confiscating excess wealth--legally--but our media don't want us to know that.. All fingers point at the mass media when it comes to blame for material inequality.

Who's to blane for crime? Funny we should ask. Crime has actually declined in the past couple of decades because of changes in the makeup of our population, and yet prisons are booming. The media pour out crime stories--mainly fiction--like a cow spews manure, so it's no wonder that people think there's a crime wave and breathe a sigh of relief whenever brown kids get locked up. Real crime, like bankers committed in 2007 and 2008 when they looted their own vaults, goes unpunished and mostly unreported. This inspires and empowers the street crime crowd, who sense that they're in the land of anything goes. More than any other social institution, the media are responsible for crime.

Do we need to discuss whether the mass media might be resonsible for mass ignorance? We're smart enough to know the stats for our favorite athletes and where to eat in Our Fair City, but we can't spot Brazil on a map. What the media don't tell us, we don't know.

There won't be anybody here to criticize them for this, but it is the media that will be principally responsible for the extinction of homo sapiens. In 1980, when we could have done something to prevent it, newsmen knew that fuel-burning emissions were going to harm the environment irreparably and catastrophically. They hid the evidence and presented the issue as an unsettled controversy, giving the fuel-burners twenty years to accumulate and safeguard their assets and consolidate their political power. The deterioration of our atmosphere in the interim means it's no longer a question of whether humanity will succumb, but when. The mass media industry--news, entertainment and advertising--the only industry explicitly protected by the Constitution of the United States, will have brought about the destruction of humanity. If there were anybody to write about it, the irony would be compelling.

Life: Cheap There, Cheap Here

August 6, 2019

It's not what we're about," said the mayor of El Paso, Texas, after a young white guy shot down a crowd of dark-skinned shoppers with a military-style rifle. Actually, this is what we're about.

Shooting, bombing, and otherwise terrorizing dark-skinned people is our stock in trade. We kill them in Iraq. We kill them in Libya. We kill them in Yemen. We're OK with that. Ask any newsman. Ask your candidates for office. Anybody out there want to end the killing? One presidential candidate had the gall to suggest that the USA might be blameworthy in some way for the wars it wages--this was before the latest shootings--and the newsmen came down on her like a ton of shit.

You can comb published reports of the latest massacres, and you'll find no mention of the wars we've been waging without pause for the last 20 years. The latest two mass murderers never knew a time when their nation was not dropping bombs on people in faraway lands. Does the question not occur to the media: if it's OK that we, as a nation, employ soldiers to kill black and brown people as a matter of policy in distant countries, isn't it also OK for individuals to take up arms, on our behalf, and do the same here?

"Gun control" won't help us with this problem, and neither will improved mental hygiene. You want to prevent mass murder, quit killing people.

Capital Punishment

April 12, 2019

I propose that we take into receivership property that is used irresponsibly. Confiscation would be mandated in the case of assets used in a way to cause harm to employees, customers, or the general public. We would be seizing property--items of land, equipment, currency, securities, industrial plants, extraction sites, and other capital assets--from parties that used them in a way that caused injury.

This idea is not as radical as it sounds. If I default on the repayment of a debt, I can be separated from my property. The law gives creditors a variety of ways--foreclosures, attachments, replevins, executions--to seize assets from a defaulting debtor. It's a pretty heavy penalty for an offense that may be altogether innocent, but we've always tolerated it as a society. That the burden falls almost always on people who don't have the means to bear it seems to bother us not at all.

The difference, in the case of misuse of property, is mainly one of scale. We would be removing items of greater value, not just a house or a car. Another difference is that, in at least some casees and maybe in most cases, the loss would be bearable and even affordable. Owners of capital lose money routinely when the value of corporate shares declines, and confiscation may be only slightly worse than a precipitous decline.

There's nothing novel or radical about receivership. The receiver takes the place of the owner or owners of an organization's assets. The owner could be a person or a family or a corporation or an arrangement of partners. The organization could be a commercial enterprise, a social agency, a professional association, or even a social club. The assets could be just about any item of property. During the early years of my law practice, my state adopted a receivership scheme to keep the heat on for tenants of landlords that couldn't pay their oil bills. Lawyers, judges and rent receivers learned how to use the law to beneficial effect within a few weeks of adoption. Receiverships have been a staple of state law for generations.

Grounds for receivership might be the commission of any offense by or on behalf of the owners. Depending on the punitiveness of the public in adopting a system of receivership, triggering offenses might range from acts that are merely negligent--on the Draconian side--to malfeasance that is clearly criminal--the lenient alternative. At some designated threshold of severity of harm, receivership would kick in.

In the case of misuse of property, receiverships could be ordered and receivers could be selected by a dedicated agency of state government or by the preference of employees, customers or the local public. The obligations of the receiver of a particular asset might be to preserve the asset to the extent possible while managing the asset with due regard for the injured employees, customers or members of the public. Any profit earned in the process would escheat to the state in the scheme I would recommend.

A receivership scheme might encompass imminent threats to public health and safety, as well as acts of malfeasance. This could protect potential victims of predictable, preventable catastrophes by early intervention.

It's possible that the assets of for-profit business--commercial enterprise being largely a branch of organized crime--would eventually pass wholly into the hands of receivers. It's also possible that the owners of capital assets would clean up their act and voluntarily cede the power that accrues to them solely because of the vast wealth they control.

Betting on the Asteroid

March 15, 2019

If you haven't seen Greta Thunberg's speech at this year's Davos Forum (an annual gathering of rich people in Switzerland) it's readily available on line. The diminutive high-schooler lectured an audience of grown-ups on the urgency of a reduction in polluting emissions. She told them they would be held responsible for the climatic catastrophe awaiting her and her age-mates if things continue as usual.

She reminded them of something you hardly ever hear about anymore: the traditional parental commitment to a better life for the children. If you ask parents today whether they think their children will end up better or worse off than they did, most will be forced to say "worse." This reflects widespread acceptance in America of a future marked by greater violence, insecurity, environmental pollution, moral and ethical decay, illiteracy, superstition, curtailment of individual rights, degradation of institutions, material poverty, and just plain bad taste.

Parents don't seem to be particularly bothered by this. Greta's reasoned critique notwithstanding, they don't see themselves as reckless stewards who, unlike their own parents, squandered their children's birthright. Rather, they take no responsibility whatsoever. "It's human nature," they plead helplessly.

That may be. Never mind that responsible stewards, in the interest of civil life, have always worked to limit natural urges for the good of the group. Never mind that the complacent acceptance of less for posterity guarantees that Greta and her peers will suffer.

And so the average American grown-up, without regard to the possible consequences for future generations, consumes resources at a rate slightly exceeding that allowed by his or her material circumstances and at least ten times the rate of the average citizen of the world. Not only that, we repudiate laws and standards restricting our personal conduct and reject all forms of civic involvement. We require neither decency nor honor of our leaders.

This mass self-indulgence of grown-ups should at some point cause concern among the elders, but instead it gives rise to mass public denial. Greta's remarks are suppressed or forgotten. There seems to be no hint in the heads of the current generations of adults that what they consume now won't be available for their issue and that their failure to contol polluting emissions today will make the world uninhabitable for their grandchildren. They're acquainted with these facts, which are patent, but they have stricken them from consciousness, so that they can pursue their present activities in blissful ignorance.

Conveniently, science has given us a rational basis for dealing with the future in this way. We know that an asteroid will eventually hit us, and that it will destroy most life on the planet. We don't know when this will happen, but it's happened before repeatedly (as recently as 60 million years ago) and it will happen again. One way or another, the world will become hostile to human life. The people who are on the planet then will have to deal with it. No point in worrying the current occupants. Nothing can be done. It's cold comfort for Greta, but a ready excuse for the rest of us to continue as usual. Sure, maybe our kids will inherit a damaged planet. but that's the breaks. They're probably going to be incinerated anyway, and if not them, their kids or grandkids. We'll all be dead by then. Right?

Down to Earth

April 2019

Prematurely bound for heaven

On a seven thirty-seven,

If you’re lucky you just might

Survive to take another flight.

In the aftermath of two deadly plane crashes involving new, improved Boeing 737 airliners, we learn that there have been several complaints about the aircraft since it was introduced. No one is saying whether some response to these reports could have prevented the deaths of two planeloads of travelers. Also unknown is why the flying public here and worldwide heard nothing about the pilots’ complaints in the months since they were recorded.

It appears that the reports were made with our own Federal Aviation Administration and that they were made voluntarily by anonymous airline pilots. This suggests that there is no mandatory reporting requirement placed on a pilot whose airplane suddenly nose-dives on its own and must have its auto-pilot disengaged to right itself. It suggests, further, that such reports can be made anonymously, so that problems with particular airplanes can’t be tracked down. It’s clear that there’s no mention of the reports in any warning or protocol issued to commercial pilots. According to reporters for the Dallas Morning News, who discovered the complaints in a database accessible to the media and the general public, the complaints suggest the presence of a design defect that could have caused both crashes. Why none of the five reports was revealed until after the latest accident remains a mystery.

Two days after the disclosure of the anonymous complaints, all mention of them has been censored out of the news. There’s no mystery behind this peculiar circumstance. The news media didn’t do their job, and dozens of people got incinerated as a result, and that is not the sort of thing news-mongers like to talk about. Their incompetence even disables them from holding the US government accountable for its deficient and deadly incident-reporting scheme. And what if it wasn’t just incompetence? You won’t read about this in your newspaper, but people might well be asking whether the lapses of governmental and journalistic responsibility could have been purposeful. Does somebody in the chain of command at FAA or CNN own a block of shares in Boeing? Losses would have been suffered if it had been known last October that the new planes were lethal.

We don’t know yet whether the problems reported by pilots in the months preceding the latest crash were at fault in this crash, and we may never know for sure. After all, the lesson in this is that we should never trust our government or our news media to tell us what’s really happening, and so any report we might receive about this event must be considered suspect.

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CURRENT INVECTIVE ARCHIVE