Category Archives: Politics

Martin Luther King Was Good At Talkin’

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As part of my contribution to celebrating MLK day, in this time of transition in race awareness in the United States, I haves an informal rhetorical analysis of King’s “I have a dream” speech. Professional Rhetoricians have analyzed this speech at a much more sophisticated level than I could ever do. This is just from a person who writes the occasional speech pointing out some of the rhetorical devices, or really, pointing out that they are there and helping you find them on your own (with LOTS of hints).

Especially notable is repetition, but not just by repeating things. The repetitions are a framework for space and place references, which are often metaphors, or for other references, and the repetitions evolve through the speech, and are used to circle back on some of the same themes so they are produced very effectively three or four times.  This is speech is a locomotive, and the repetitions are the track it is barreling down.

You can read the speech here. 

Look for the meter.:

I am happy to join
with you today
in what will go down
as the greatest demonstration
in the history of our nation

There are many,many other segments of this speech that come in a five-five-five or similar poetic meter.

Look for reference to classics/bible:

  • Five score years ago, a great American… we’ve come to this hallowed spot. (from Pereclies Funerary Oration and the Gettysburg Address).
  • wallow in the valley of despair
  • Lots of others

Look for nearly hyperbolic adjectives with repetition:

Fatal to overlook the urgency. Fierce urgency. Urgency of now.

Look for rich metaphors being asked to do a lot of work:

  • We’ve come to cash a check, a promissory note written byh the founders, America has defaulted on this note.
  • Invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
  • Threshold of palace of justice
  • Cup of bitterness and hatred
  • Winds of police brutality

Look for building metaphors on metaphors:

America has defaulted on the check but the bank of justice is not bankrupt.

Look for poetic repetition:

  • One hundred years later…
  • We cannot be satisfied
  • I have a dream dream dream
  • Let freedom ring

Look for metaphor mixed with repetition and indirect reference, esp. using space/place:

Cannot walk alone
As we walk… we shall always march
We cannot turn back.

Further look at the “I have a dream” part

  • “I have a dream that” = five beat rhythm
  • “I have a dream that” repeated four times, then shifted: “I have a dream TODAY!” Twice
  • Many of the “I have a dream” clauses re-visit earlier parts of the speech, stating the same idea again but in this elevated prose.

Look for use of place and space, including spatial shifts in phrases, and where the adjectives sit in the language:

In Dream section, place (and person) repeated: This nation, just Georgia, just Mississippi, Alabama, Every valley, every hill and mountain, etc.

Mountain of despair, Every valley and every hill and mountain, rough spaces made plain, crooked places made straight, etc. etc.

“Let freedom ring” repetition, repeating themes for THIRD time, making use of space and place AGAIN. by this time the listener is totally in the groove with respect to the framework of metaphors, the cadence of repetition, and the space/place framework.

Again, five beat repetition in “Let freedom ring from”

Rich juicy adjectives for each of the places mentioned (mighty, prodigious, curvaceous) replaced for a few beats with a built in strong adjective as part of the place name (Stone Mountain, Lookout Mountain) etc.

Reverse of ring repeat in first “last line. “

These last two things (have a name in rhetoric, I forgot it if I ever really knew it) bump the listener.

Denouement

Full of repeats, classic references, more place/space references, the whole shebang in one little paragraph followed by:

Powerful repeats (“free at last”) with a couplet of iambic pentameter to finish it off:

Thank god Almighty
We are free at last


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We Commemorated January 6th

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And by “we” I mean “they” not “I” because of Covid related issues and childcare. But we all were there in spirit.

All around the country, people from a wide swath of the political spectrum, but mostly Centrists, Liberals, Progressives and such, gathered in various places but usually near the seats of government, and in various manners memorialized the attempted coup staged by failed twice impeached Republican President Trump and his white supremacist terrorist allies on the street and in the halls of Congress. This coup is still in progress. The roots of the coup go back father in time. We are still fighting it. But January 6th is the convenient date for the opening salvo, the Fort Sumter of the current culture war turned Civil Rift.

The people who went to these event did not break into their government buildings. They did not threaten to murder elected officials. They did not destroy property. They did not beat up police officers. They did not kill or injure anybody. To the right wing, that makes them chumps, but to us, who make up the core of our democracy, that makes them True Americans.

Meanwhile, the Right Wing mostly sat around simpering. The leaders and organizers called for celebration, but no one moved a muscle, no one showed up. Perhaps they are embarrassed. Perhaps the illegality of it all dawned on them, and they didn’t want to make their situations worse. Perhaps their more sensible spouses, friends, parents, kids, told them to take it down a notch and go back out to their porn-decorated garages and pretend to work on their motorcycles. Probably all of those reasons pertain.

We commemorated January 6th with a time honored democratic process. We stood on soap boxes, yelled and sang. (Again, by “we” I mean the great and brave “they” and I thank them.) Later we will work for campaigns and vote. It is undemocratic to physically attack and try to kill those with whom we disagree. That is literally the definition of terrorism. Democracy and terrorism do not mix.

Please consider writing a letter to your local paper that says something nice about democracy, some time over the next few weeks.


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Justice will be slow for the Republican crooks.

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On February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and wounded another 17, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to reports. Alleged, not proven. Yet.

The fourth anniversary of this horrific event, which had absolutely zero impact on gun related policy or legislation because we live in a country where the slaughter of innocents is a day to day event that we expect and do not care about, at the level of government (stop pretending that we might, folks, just admit who we are) will occur a few weeks before Cruz’s trial starts.

Filmed, countless witnesses. It happened. He did it (sue me, Cruz). But the judicial process goes so slowly that the dead children would have been in their early 20s (or almost so) had he not killed them, by the time sentence is passed on this murderer.

When we ask why the Department of Justice has not thrown the Trump Gang into prison yet, we might remind ourselves that justice is as slow as molasses. We might also note that this is in large part by design. We are supposed to have expedient justice, but the system allows the accused to put on the brakes at many points. Trump and his gang have the clout to pump the brakes so many times that a simple procedure can take six months. A mass murder suspect apparently has similar abilities. Other trials are started sooner. Duante Wright was murdered by a Brooklyn Center police officer on April 11 2021, and Officer Potter was convicted just a few days ago, all within one year. George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25th, 2020, and convicted almost exactly one year later, though other defendants in that case still await trial.

So big bad things can take a year to reach a settlement, or they can take 4 years. We are coming up on 2 years for the start of full on investigation of the Trump Gang, which we assume was hampered during the entire period of the Trump Dictatorship. So maybe we should start seeing results (or more results, there have been a few results) soon.

I’m not complaining, I’m just calibrating. Specifically, I’m making this point: When you vote randomly, or vote for the nutbag (like Trump, but there are others) just to “shake things up” or show the people in Washington a thing or two, you help condemn the rest of us to a potentially very long slog of ruination and distress, which does not actually end when the rest of us finally throw the bum out. It keeps going much longer, because the wheels of justice turn slowly.

The Watergate Plumbers, who had been involved in numerous nefarious and illegal activities for years, got caught breaking into the Democratic Party national headquarters on June 17th, 1972. Convictions of key players happened between 1974 and 1975, with court procedings continuing into 1976 (but not convictions). About 20 Republcian bad guys went to jail or were fined. Nixon, the mastermind behind all of it, resigned in August 1974, two years after the break-in but probably six years or so after the first nefarious acts by his gang, but other than a forced retirement he was never punished, but was rather pardoned by one of his Republican buddies. So the time scale of justice for Watergate runs from 2 to 6 years, depending on which illegal act and which act of justice one uses to calibrate.

Iran-Contra happened during the reign of Republican strongman Reagan. The illegal acts started in or around 1981, peaked around 1985, revealed in November 1986. There were subsequent indictments, but in the end everybody was pardoned by other members of the Republican gang. So the time scale on Iran-Contra is: No justice ever, but there coulda been on about a two to five year time scale had the whole thing not been pushed under the Republican Rug.

There have actually been hundreds of federal level scandals, many involving illegal activities, and the time scale tends to be about a few years from discovery to rug-lift-and-sweep, or in some cases, just resolution. Longer if the scandal is made up.

Again: When you vote for a bone-headed right winger, you are guaranteed to be contributing to the start of some nefarious activity or another, followed by much gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth by all of us, all because you are a voting moron. If you vote for the Green Party in a tight race, any third party, or for the bad guy just to show ’em, you are being a voting moron. If you don’t know that the trouble you help cause will go on for years, and may in some cases never be resolved, you are voting moron. And if you defend the voting morons because you can’t do electoral arithmetic, you are worse than that.

The moral of the many stories: 1) Be patient with the system of justice but also 2) don’t be an idiot when you go to vote.


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The Third Worlding

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One day I returned home and realized I had forgotten the shampoo. It was a devastating revelation.

You are probably thinking, “First World problem,” right? Well, it wasn’t because at the time I was living in the actual co-called “Third World.*”

Home, for me at the time, was one of the most remote non-polar research sites ever. “Going to the store” meant driving across nearly impassible roads for a day, a ride that would cause enough damage to the old Land Rover to require some $500 of repair on average. Then a few days in a sort of city (Isiro, Zaire) where I would spend considerable effort assembling the food and other supplies for a stint as long as I could manage, hopefully 4 to 6 weeks. Basically, as much as the old Land Rover could hold. Then, the trip back. So, going to the store was a week out of my research time, costly, and dangerous (because of the roads).

I had taken a shower the morning of my return to the field, at my friend Bwana Ndgege’s house, and left the shampoo in the bathroom. Yes, devastating.

What I did not know at the time was this. Later that very morning, Bwana Nndege saw the bottle of shampoo in the bathroom. He picked it up and walked out in front of his house, which was located in a part of the city where one might see people waking around on their daily business, but not too many people. Shortly, he saw a man walking down the street, and hailed him over. Bwana Ndege did not know this man.

“Say, do you happen to know the researchers that live in Ngodingodi, a research village down the road past Wamba, on the Mambasa road?”

“There is still a road there?” the man asked.

“Truth be told, not really a road any more, but they go town there with their land rover. The blue one with the different color doors. Know it?”

“No, not really, never heard of any of this,” the man answered.

So, Bwana Ndege handed him the shampoo, and said, “Well, anyway, could you pass this on to someone who might? They left it here this morning.”

“OK, no problem,” the man said, taking the shampoo.

Now, I should mention, that the good people of the Eastern Congo are averse to crime, and are honest. There are, of course, criminals there just like anywhere else, but such is not your average Zairois. At the same time, a bottle of shampoo is a commodity people save up for, feel lucky to have, and desire. Handing this man the bottle of shampoo with only the vaguest instructions or prospects like this would be similar to finding a random person on the street of an American city and handing them a short stack of loose ten dollar bills and asking them to pass it on to someone who might pass it on to someone etc. with the hope that it gets to a city 500 miles away, and to a particular vague address. It just would not work.

So what happened next?

About three weeks after I returned, sans shampoo, I was up in the hilltop research camp working on some notes, when I smelled something different. I asked one of the local people who worked there what that might be. She sniffed the air, and said, “Maybe the nomads?”

There is a local tribe called the Bahama (or Wahama, or just Hama) who rarely pass through with their small herds of cattle. Cattle don’t live in this forest, and can’t survive the parasites, but a couple/few times a year, a Hama man will pass through with a couple dozen head. Probably, some circumstance in his life and business makes passing through a zone where some of his cattle will get sick better than going some other route. One can imagine.

Anyway, she was right. The smell was the cattle coming down the road. We stood on the top of the hill and watched as a couple of dozen long horned Sanga cattle passed by, followed by a few straggling calves and a Hama man driving them. He glanced up the hill and saw me, which caused him to sprint up the path and issue a greeting.

Sanga Cattle. Not the Congo, but nearby Rwanda. From Wilson, RT, “Crossbreeding of Cattle in Africa” DOI: 10.15640/jaes.v7n1a3
“Hey, what’s new?” (Standard greeting in the area: “Habari gani?”)

“No news,” I replied. I asked our local employee to get the water bottle and cup, assuming he wanted a fresh drink. Which he did.

As he appreciatively downed the liquid, he asked me, “Is this Ngodigodi? The place where you white people work?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied, bemused that he would know that, since our presence was semi-secretive, in order to avoid drawing attention to our neighborhood, which would in turn potentially mess up the folks who lived around us.

That’s when he pulled out the bottle of shampoo and handed it to me. “Some guy up the road a ways told me to give this to you.”

In sum: First world problem and third world solution.

The thing is, this was not an unusual event. It was normal.

Well, it was a somewhat extreme and amusing, story-generating version of normal. Normal is more like I go to a guy’s store and say I want to exchange money, and he says he can’t but he knows someone who can, and it turns out that is also the guy I’m hoping to get a rebuilt fuel injector from, and he is the sibling of a person who is offering bags of ground cassava for pretty cheap, but they all live in different places but are visiting relatives, and somebody needs a ride across town. Three people, actually, with stops along the way. So, after three hours of driving around with people and stuff, three hours of meeting and greeting, counting out giant piles of near worthless local currency, goods and services being exchanged, a couple cups of tea and a chupa of beer or two, and at the end of the day, I end up completing an important bank transaction in the land without banks, my truck will get fixed, and we can eat for a month, all stuff I would have done in the US in less than 45 minutes, but here, it is a series of social events bound together with a ToDo list, and a full day’s activity.

Yesterday morning my wife stopped at her usual coffee shop to pick up the coffee she ordered in advance on line. The barista’s kid was sick so he was not there, and the shop was closed. But the person working at the adjoining business said, “yeah, he’s out, but I’ll tell him you get a free coffee tomorrow.” Then this morning, she stopped by and a third person who also did not work there said, “are you the person who gets the free crafted press? Here, saving it for you” and so on. A series of trust-based events to fix a supply chain problem, a supply chain problem that is an amateur version of the Big Giant Supply Chain Problem that every human being who lives anywhere that is not the First World experiences daily with all things, where it is simply the way it is, all the time.

A supply chain problem in the US could be called a First World problem, but really, it is something a little different. It is the thin but heretofore persistent veneer of the First World sloughing off in a spot or two, revealing the fundamental Third World nature of human society and economics, underneath it all. The great First World accomplishment is re-organizing the Third World reality so things run more smoothly and everything takes less time. The benefit is that a term like “supply chain problem” is a bemusing neologism rather than a daily descriptor for most Americans. The cost is the dehumanization of the system.

The Republicans broke one of our oldest, most stable, and most useful institutions.
Just hours after the coffee exchange, I happened to see in a newspaper report another neologism: Skimpflation. The New York Times muses: “The quality of many services has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic — a problem that the NPR show “Planet Money” has labeled “skimpflation.”” What the Gray Lady and its commentators do with this concept is to launch on a Biden-Leveling screed meant to keep the fight between the left and the right even-looking, which is a crime that paper commits every day. But what they hit on, accidentally, is the point I’m making here. Two points, really. 1) Third World life is just under the surface, and 2) If you get your expectations in order, this change we are having has some serious benefits; it isn’t all down side.

There is a third point. This is all Trump’s fault. And the Republicans. By ripping apart as many systems as they could, and by encouraging rather than fighting the Covid pandemic, they damaged or broke all the things that matter to most of the people, while leaving the rich intact. We are now more like Zaire/Congo than we ever were. (Like our postal system, on the verge of collapse. Many countries don’t even have a postal system. They just have this guy who happens to be walking down the street, or a muzungu with a working vehicle who happens to be going across town…) The Republican goal is to turn the US into a sea of Third World humanity with the supply chain ever broken, with a small wealthy and somewhat larger and less wealthy ex-patriot-esque community living behind walls in some serious priv. That is what Republicans always wanted, that is what they are finally getting.

The world where that story of shampoo happened unraveled, several times, in the intervening period between then and now. Hundreds of thousands have died violent deaths there, or worse, and there was even a systematic holocaust. A region about a third of the United States with a population of about a fifth of the United States has been living in economic strife and social upheaval because that top-heavy post colonial system eventually blows up. We will have that here as well, if the Third Worlding planned by Bannon, Trump, McConnell and the other Republicans is fully realized.

We could be rescued, of course, by a fascist superhero of some kind. Yes, this is Hitler’s playbook being applied. It is a very plausible scenario. Fear creates a movement, spiritual and physical terror, propaganda. Or, as they say in Mein Kampf, “Angst schafft Bewegung, spirituellen und physischen Terror, Propaganda.” Hitler’s program worked because Germany of the time was a broken society with a broken economy and a balkanized government. The White Supremacist program wouldn’t work well in an America that wasn’t beaten and damaged. Lucky for the Republicans, this handy dandy disease came along just in time to put us on the mat and hold us down long enough to create the beginnings of a Third World society, in which a movement could grow, spiritual and physical terror could be applied, and propaganda deployed. MAGA, insurrection, CRT/Replacement Theory.

Perhaps it is time to start stocking up on shampoo.


Note: The term “Third World” is considered inappropriate to refer to countries previously referred to as “Third World.” Untwist your shorts, I did not use that term to mean that in this essay. Thank you very much, re-read if necessary.


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What ya gonna do when they come for you?

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In Ramsey County, Minnesota (home of Saint Paul) you can be jailed for up to 90 days, and fined up to $1,000, if you are found in a park after hours. “Hours” in Ramsey County parks are from sun up to sun down, so the hours change daily and in pragmatic terms, are subjective.

I can see having a rule about when you can be in the park, and fixing it to sunlight makes sense, and I can even see a modest punishment for offenders. But three months in jail because you thought the sun was still up 15 minutes after sundown? Note to those reading this from the equator: The sun continues to brighten the northern sky long after official sundown, since the penumbra is quite wide in high latitudes.

That was in the Star Tribune, the region’s newspaper of record. In the same issue is an op-ed penned by a local retired cop who has a new job of screaming at clouds. There was a horrific and tragic shootout at a local bar the other day, in which over a dozen innocent bystanders were shot, one killed. It was a shootout among some bad hombres including one with an open warrant. Old Guy Cop made the argument that if only cops were allowed to make “low level stops” (aka pretextual stops) then this shooting could have been avoided. The argument goes like this: Cops were formerly allowed to pull people over for things like busted taillights. In so doing they would also end up finding felons with outstanding warrants, so they were thus kept of the streets. But now with all the “defund the police” talk this isn’t the case anymore, thus the shooting. Continue reading What ya gonna do when they come for you?


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Policing Reform: Then, now, next

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This post is meant to be a rough draft of an overview of police reform activism over recent decades. What I’m saying here is mainly from my own memory. Ever since I’ve been storing and retaining memories, I’ve been one sort of environmentalist or another, but police reform activism has been part of my life since, well, since the Beatles were still together, almost. Recent conversations led me to think about this more than I usually would, and I realized that there is some worthwhile historical insight to be had.

While this overview is based on memory, I did spend a couple of hours this morning looking at old articles, checking Wikipedia pages, etc. There is fodder for a well researched and closely documented essay. This is not that essay. But, feel free to throw your thoughts, experiences, and information into the comments just in case there is such an essay!

Today we are concerned with militarization of the police. This is a little odd in long term historical perspective, because at one time in the past, militarization of the police would have involved reducing their firearms and training capacity considerably.

From around the beginning of the 20th century both the British and American armies used either an Enfield rifle or similar (“Enfield” refers to a range of similar designs made by Lee-Enfield or copied by American manufacturers). You would pull the trigger, then use a bolt to move a new bullet into the chamber, then pull the trigger. The military had other weapons, of course, but the average soldier had this rifle. Meanwhile, in the 1920s and 1930s, when gangsters literally ruled large parts of the United States, both police and the gangsters commonly used a submachine gun. “Militarizing” the police in 1925 would have involved taking away their powerful weapons and downgrading. Over recent decades, militarizing means replacing a handgun with the modern equivalent of a submachine gun.

This perspective on militarization is not very relevant to modern activism, but telling the story here serves the purpose of reminding us that the “old days” were not a few years ago, and history is complex. The relevance of militarization will be more apparent below.

There was a time, back when I first got involved in police reform activism, when it was common practice for the police to shoot people in the back if they fled. It was considered normal, and was part of police training. My own early activism arose from the shooting of a young African American kid named Keith by a New York State Trooper. The kid was caught driving a motor scooter on the New York State Thruway. The trooper told him to stand there, the kid decided to drive away on his scooter. The New York State Troopers had just gotten their much coveted giant .357 magnum side arms, after a long fight in the legislature, where liberals thought the police might use them to kill people and the police wanted them to shoot at cars. My memory is that Keith was shot in the back, and nearly cut in half as the giant high powered bullet tore through his spine and exploded his internal organs, only weeks after that new pistol was issued. Within a few months, 15 year old me was on a bus going to Chicago to participate (and cover for a local anarchist newspaper) the Fight Back conference and protest, sparked by a spate of similar killings.

Our activism, and the legal process, worked. Now there are laws in all but a few states that prohibit shooting a fleeing suspect except in special circumstances. A 1986 (IIRC) supreme court decision said something similar. During that period of time, say from the very late 1960s through the end of the 1980s, our activism led to changes in law, and court outcomes, that cut the number of police killings of citizens to less than half, and made shooting people in the back mostly illegal. You are welcome.

That wasn’t enough of course, more had to be done. And circumstances conspired to make things worse rather than better in the 1980s. During the 1960s (and before) and through the 1970s, drug use was an urban phenomenon, and people would go “downtown” to buy their pot, heroin, etc. Remember the “war on drugs”? Well, that happened when the rise of suburbs shifted the drug marketplace to the suburbs. During the 1980s, you would go to the suburbs to get your pot, as likely as anywhere else. Under Reagan, the War on Drugs turned to the suburbs. I remember a friend of mine who was a cop at that time (the first woman cop in the state, IIRC) told me that if I, ahem, happened to know anyone looking for pot tell them to stay away from the ‘burbs. She could see the writing on the walls. there was going to be some serious federally funded action in the suburbs.

She was right. There were major busts in one suburb or another across the US every single day for a few years. Reagan drove drugs back into the “inner city” where they belonged, at least according to the nice people in the suburbs.

There was not a lot of shooting and killing connected with that operation, but I believe the results were deadly. By pushing drug dealing back into the urban zone, it also pushed it more into the hands of people of color. Tough drug laws, a product of the 1970s, were expanded and increased. Police were given more powers, like the ability to take property used in drug transport. They were also given more weapons and other forms of support, though nothing like the later militarization. The ultimate result: crime fighting was equated with the war on drugs, and both were equated with police repression of people living in ethnically diverse, but mainly Black or Hispanic, urban zones. It wasn’t just the drugs, it was everything in life. The systematic, daily, attacks on people in certain neighborhoods increased. Meanwhile, the police procedurals and shows like Cops taught people in the suburbs that sometimes the police just had to get tough on on the bad boys. What ya gonna do when they come for you? Don’t run, don’t hide, keep your hands in sight or you die. Police repression of the people of the “Inner City” or “Downtown” became a feature of American society and was normalized in the minds of the middle class, whose very parents or grandparents used to live in those neighborhoods.

I don’t know much first hand about political activism regarding police reform in the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s. I was mostly out of the country or buried in the library or lab in graduate school, or teaching. My weekly political act when in the US focused on pro choice clinic defense, then later I added defending science in the classroom. I was as much looking the other way as the rest of us white people of priv, speeding through higher education, or working corporate, or whatever. (Still a citizen of the urban zone, though … the ‘burbs still feel new to me.) And fruitlessly fighting the Republican takeover of everything.

Then 9/11 happened. Everyone seemed to freak out. The nation and anything that looked like defense or protection, policing or investigation, became the child who would not stop crying to which you acquiesce and give whatever candy they want. The right wing introduced a bill called “S1” which made many crimes punishable by death, gave police and investigative agencies broad powers, etc. etc. They introduced that, IIRC, in the 1970s, and kept introducing it again and again and again, and it would always be defeated, or simply ignored, because it was so extreme and draconian. It would change our society into a police state. It was unacceptable.

Within months after 9/11, that bill was strengthened and passed. You know of it as the Patriot Act. And, it made militarization of the police not only acceptable, but required, and funded.

I don’t think is is safe to say that the police were less bad in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after the right to shoot a fleeing suspect was removed, but before the War on Drugs Reagan style. It might have been, though. The police were less armed, less numerous, and had had their wings clipped, at least to some extent. But if they were less dangerous, it was only for a while.

I would like to know if it is true that there is a combat vet to cop pipeline, and if that has made our police forces more dangerous by concentrating, exacerbating, and arming PTSD. I would like to know if it is still true (or really ever was) that police forces avoid hiring people who show some degree of intelligence, on purpose. I would like to know how badly we’ve messed up by increasingly linking corporate costs of doing business to police funding. What percentage of a police officer’s lifetime salary is ultimately paid for by large corporations rather than taxpayers, right now, and how has that changed? It is imperative to get a handle on the relationship between government lawyers and police agencies, if we expect to police the police. What needs to happen there?

Finally, I think we need to assess our victories. The Chauvin murder conviction is only barely a victory. It is a great thing for those immediately involved, and it is a demonstration that accountably is possible. But saying that the Chauvin conviction is a step in the right direction is ingenuous. He held the man down for 6 minutes while he died, and another 3 minutes for good measure, guarded by his fellow cops, whom he was teaching how to be a cop, while surrounded by citizens making the moral, legal, and logical case against what he was doing, filming the whole time. This is like saying to your dog, “you pooped, good boy.” This was not an accomplishment of the system.

One of the more recent changes in police behavior and associated law, the one we are dealing with now, is the right of a cop to kill a person if doing so conforms to expectations of what a cop would do, with special consideration to the cop being afraid. This is why the police who carried out most of the recent killings in Minnesota got off. There is recent case law supporting the concept. It is like the shoot the fleeing suspect rule. At one time shooting the fleeing suspect was considered normal by much of society, was codified in law, supported by the courts, and taught in police training. Now, none of those things are true (mostly). Today, killing a suspect because you are afraid of black people is codified in law and court doctrine, built into training, and accepted as normal and expected behavior by much of society.

Stop that.


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Daunte Wright: Geographical Context

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Once again, I find myself writing notes for interested parties on the geography of a killing, by police, of a black man. I lived a block from the site in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, where Philando Castile was killed. I wrote about that here. I did not ever live too near where Jamar Clark was killed, but I did live for a few years within gunshot sound distance from where George Floyd was murdered, which by the way, is a half block away from where Tyesha Edwards, at the age of 11, lost her life in gang violence while working on her homework, in 2002. But I digress.

Duante Wright was killed in Brooklyn Center. Brooklyn Center is on the Mississippi, bordering on Minneapolis, and has a population a bit over 30,000. It was at one time the Center of “Brooklyn Township” but incorporated as a separate city in 1911, so it is now bounded on the north and west by Brooklyn Park, and on the south by North Minneapolis and Robbinsdale. My fair city, Plymouth, is just to the west, about one kilometer.

Minneapolis is a very urban city, meaning, it as an incorporated entity does not include any significant non urban areas that are not parks (of which there are many). It is surrounded by a ring of “inner ring” suburbs, which either touch the city (like Brooklyn Park does) or, in a few cases, touch a city that touches the city. Without exception, these inner ring suburbs are not suburbs by the usual definition. They are as urban, or in some cases even more urban, as the adjoining areas of the city itself, and they generally reflect the adjoining areas of the city with respect to the overall nature and character of the streets and houses, the demographics, the predominant business, etc. So, for example, you can hardly tell the difference between the la-la-shi-shi parts of South Minneapolis, along “The Creek” and nearby “The Lakes” from Edina, a wealthy inner ring suburb (that’s where Al Franken is from, but from the days when it was less wealthy). If you stand on one of the key intersections at the boundary there, and you are very observant, you’ll notice that Minneapolis and Edina have different streetlights. The Edina streetlights are a bit nicer. That’s about it.

Brooklyn Center also adjoins Columbia Heights and Fridley across the river (where I lived for a year) across the river, and abuts North Minneapolis (part of Minneapolis proper). North, Columbia Heights, and Brooklyn Center together form a vast urban zone with primarily residential properties and a very high level of ethnic diversity. As Minneapolis developed in the 20th century, it became a highly segregated city, with North Minneapolis including a majority share of Black neighborhoods, and adjoining Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Center were eventually, in the 1980s and 1990s, to become spillover areas for the adjoining populations. However, as this spillover happened, these neighborhoods doubled down on diversity. In 2010 (according to the census) Brooklyn Center was majority-minority white (just under 50%), about one fourth African American, and the rest Hispanic/Latinx, Pacific Islands, Asian, and everybody else. Since then, the diversity has increased, I’m pretty sure, with fewer White people, more people of African diaspora links, Central and South Asian people, and others. Brooklyn Center and nearby Brooklyn Park is where you might want to go if you need African food stuffs.

This is the site of the homestead, now an historic site and conference center, of the locally famous Earle Brown, who was the founder of the Minnesota State Patrol and the first sheriff of Hennepin County. This important historical connection to policing in Minnesota will be lost on pundits and observers, but it is locally poignant. For me, I’ve been to education and science related conferences at the Earle Brown center, and our son’s pediatrician is right there, at the local health clinic.

The top local business in Brooklyn Center is Medtronic (you probably heard of Medtronic). The third biggest employer is Caribou Coffee.

Where does the name “Brooklyn” come from? The settlers of the earlier and larger Brooklyn Township came from Brooklyn, Michigan, a tiny village near the racetrack. Brooklyn Michigan is named after Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn is a versionized form of Breukelen, a town in the Netherlands. In Dutch, it probably means “Broken Land.” Which applies today to its namesake’s namesake.


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How the Chauvin Trial Will Go, and other matters of White supremacy

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I don’t expect convictions in the Chauvin or Rittenhouse trials.

In both cases, it is about White supremacy. I don’t subscribe to the idea half of the country comprises batshit crazy right wing red hat wearing insurrectionist Nazis. Not half. But enough that in putting together a pool of 12 people, it is almost impossible to not get one or two. They will obviate any criminal jury decision. This will apply to these two trials as well as many of the Capitol attack/Jan 6th criminals as well.

I believe the following things are true, correct me if I’m wrong.

1) Criminal trials require a unanimous decision and for burden of proof, rely on the concept of “shadow of doubt.”

2) Civil trials require a majority decision, and for burden of proof, rely on the concept of preponderance of evidence.

4) Normally, day to day, when a jury trial happens, there is a conviction most of the time.

5) On the infrequent occasion when a trial is highly visible and the stakes include things like White supremacy or other socio-political issues, when a jury trial happens, there is a hung jury or acquittal.

(Those last two points are conjecture, but it feels that way.)

Given all this, I expect these trials to involve both acquittals and some sort of examination of our thousand-year old history of the jury system. (The latter will lead to nothing.) I expect that in a subset of these cases (including the murder of Mr. Floyd) there will be a civil trial, and the civil trial will produce the equivalent of a conviction. And yes, I do think the OJ Simpson saga fits into this pattern.

Fight me.


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Is it too late for Donald Trump to redeem himself by dying in his sleep?

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For several years after spending the majority of the months of the year, for a few years, living in a rain forest with people who did not speak English, I developed these habits: When I was warning people of an imminent danger (something about to drop, a car about to come too close, etc.) I would say “Keba!” Or, if I was out in the wilds with someone and I saw a snake, I’d say, “Keba, Nyoka!” Neither was effective in the American context, but the reactions were burned in to my head. They were burned in because in the rain forest there was no way to get the kind of help we Americans are accustomed to (like doctors and urgent care facilities and such) and there were some mighty impressive deadly snakes. My brain rewired. “Careful” became “Keba!” and “Look out for the snake!” became “Keba, Nyoka!”

The other day, at the beginning of March, I woke up for the first time in years without a sense of urgency as I grabbed my cell phone to check my email. I woke up and did not check my email even before I was fully out of bed. I checked later, and when I did, I was specifically looking for two or three emails from colleagues, about the HOA meeting later that day, or about a letter we needed to send to a guest speaker at an upcoming forum, or some such.

What I was not looking for, for the first time in years, was a news alert announcing that Donald Trump was dead, for one reason or another.

I stopped caring so much if Donald Trump died in his sleep on January 20th, about noon. I still care. It would still be nice, since he is still a threat to the entire world, and especially the United States. But his dictatorship is over, and the reckoning has begun, and I’m thinking he will have a hard time running an effective campaign for president from within Wallkill Prison.

I think that what I’ve been experiencing could be called PTSD, of a sort. Having experienced PTSD (following acts of terrible violence and/or maiming) I have to say it doesn’t feel just like that, but maybe there are different versions. And, maybe I’m still experiencing it. Maybe we all are still getting over Trump and, likely, that is going to take some time. Or, if not getting over, maybe growing used to the new situation where Trump is not the dictator, but still a boogeyman in the background along with the Proud Boys and other White Supremacist insurrectionists.

I say Wallkill, but maybe it would be Sing Sing. Sing Sing would be good.

Anyway, I’ve only spoken at length to one person who was in the Capitol at the time of the January 6th Republican Insurrection. He is a mild mannered guy in politics who had worked hard to get around party divides, and bring people together around issues of common concern. But after the insurrection, when he realized that it was the Republicans in the Capitol that were hoping for mayhem, destruction, and even death, even helping make it happen, he has had something of a Come to Jesus moment. I was there with the proverbial Jesus long ago. I stopped trusting Republicans way back, and my disdain has only grown, and I have railed against the “independent thinker” meme for years. (That’s, like, “I don’t vote on party lines. I look at the issues, then chose the candidate based on their stance on the issues,” said by someone who usually doesn’t vote.) January 6th did not change my mind at all. This person is, I think, likely to experience some really serious PTSD, having actually been in the building, to hear the screaming, the gun shot, the exhortation to remove identifying pins else be captured by the enemy that has breached the breaches…

I recommend that folks examine their own PTSD or quasi-PTSD — which may be mild and it may be strong, but is likely to be at least somewhat hidden — to see if there are any demons that need to be held down in the bucket until the last bubble floats up.

I have taken solace, and kept some degree of strength and sanity, with a particular idea. First, an idea that I don’t like, by way of contrast.

This is the domino or Ponzi idea. You and I decide that the best thing to do is to vote for a particular candidate. So we each get ten people to agree, and then, they get 10 other people to agree, and so on. If I do this with a particular idea here in Minnesota, within fewer than 7 iterations, I’ve convinced twice as many people as actually live here (including babies) to vote for my candidate! That won’t actually work, wont’ actually get past the first iteration.

A version of that is the domino effect. I push over one thing, it pushes over the next thing, and so on, until finally all the things are pushed over (figuratively). That doesn’t even work very well with actual dominoes. The reason why there are YouTube videos of it actually working with dominoes is that if you get this to really work impressively, of course you take a video of it!

Here is what I do instead. Imagine a heavy ball, like a bowling ball, suspended on a long chain from some object high atop the thing. It is motionless. Now, stroke it with a strip of 34 pound (heavy weight) paper. The ball will hardly move. But if you wait for it to ever so subtly move back to where you stroked it, and a little beyond, where it is about to swing once again in the away direction, and stroke it then, the next swing will be a tiny bit father. If you keep doing that, the heavy ball on the long chain will eventually be swinging so far that it will be hard to stop, certainly unstoppable with a strip of paper.

And that is what I do every single day, and it is what I’ve been doing every single day since Trump was elected. I was doing it a lot before, but every single day, sometimes multiple times, since then. Probably 5,000 strokes since November 2016.

Of course, I do things like send an email or make a call to an elected representative, or give 50 bucks to a candidate, or spend an hour on a phone bank, etc. But I like to do somewhat bigger strokes when I can. Like write a letter to the editor for my local kitchen-stop paper, that might get read by, I dunno, 100 people. I employ messaging skills to make that letter a little more effective, and I make sure it gets around on social media. Stroke, stroke, stroke, right there. Or I help organize 100 people to write an email or make a call. Or I recruit or help train a new volunteer who is going to go at that suspended ball in their own way. Tonight, three of us spent a couple of ours on a zoom with a hundred folks helping them craft excellent comments in support of a regulation that will increase the use of electric cars.

It is very important to pay attention to the timing and direction of each thing. Just doing something to feel good about it may not be ideal. Doing just the right thing at the right time can move the bowling ball. Real live activism requires less precision than the actual bowling ball stroking, of course. At the same time, we can calculate the exact effect of the paper stroke but with real live activism we are often shooting in the dark.

Anyway, every day since the day Trump was elected, through his inauguration and eventual departure, I have been pushing the heavy weight just a little bit at a time, enough that I know that I’ve moved it. I can not say that every act has had an effect, but I’m certain that several thousand, together, have.

Oh, and I should say this: There are a few million of us.

Of course, there are always the federal prisons. I hear Yazoo City is nice.

Anyway, this is not done. The future is dangerous and must be paid close attention to. Keba! Kazi yetu haijakamilika.


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What is Treason, Exactly? (And has it been committed by anyone you know recently?)

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What is treason, exactly?

I recently asked on major social networking platforms, “Did Donald Trump Commit Treason,” and got two well argued and often detailed answers: “Yes!” and “No!”

Then, I read On Treason: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law by Carlton F.W. Larson.* I discovered that both positions are wrong. And right.

Ultimately, it can not be argued that Donald Trump violated the treason clause of the US Constitution in his dealings with Russia, even if the worst that has been suggested is true. (Larson’s book came out before 1/6, so it is silent on the events of that day.) When people in the US use the term “treason” in a sentence like “Trump committed treason, lock him up!” they are (inadvertently, most of the time) referring to the Treason Clause in Article II, Section 3, of the US Constitution, which says:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

First, I’d like to point out the use of the plural in referring to “The United States.” This is how the United States were/was referred to prior to the US Civil War. After the war, it would have been “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against it.” But I digress.

Some of this is obvious, some of it not, but I learned from Larson’s book that treason must involve giving aid to an enemy of the US, in the sense that we are in a state of war. However, we have been and are now at war with multiple entities with no formal declaration of war, and haven’t been since World War II. Why war has not been declared since then is a bit mysterious, but I hear it is because it would make the US a war criminal country, since it is against convention of international law to go to war against anyone. But again I digress.

The point is, if someone adhered to (helped) the Hanoi government during the US period of involvement in the Viet Nam war, that act would be considered aiding a country at war with us, because everybody understand that a war is a war even if Congress has not declared it.

But, there are enemies, to which Larson and other legal experts apply the highly technical legal term “frienemies,” that are countries with whom we are not getting along at all, but avoid using the “w” word because we would all die in nuclear holocaust. Such as Russia. Trump did not commit treason in his dealings with Russia not because there is no declared war with Russia, but because we don’t want to openly admit we are in some sense at war with Russia. A treason charge against Trump for aiding Russia by the US Attorney General would be tantamount to declaring war against Russia, and then, we would all die in the nuclear holocaust.

If you think that Trump still could be considered to have committed treason against the United States by aiding Russia, then you would be absolutely correct. Maybe. But if you think that the US can or should charge Trump with treason based on his dealings with Russia, then you would be absolutely wrong, but NOT because we are not technically at war with Russia (see above) but because we won’t admit to being in a state of hostility against Russia. (By the way, if you want body counts, you can have body counts. Many have died in the cold war, Russia had seen to the killings of US soldiers, putting Trump in place as US President to disrupt our country has resulted in countless excess Covid-19 deaths, and so on and so forth).

In my personal opinion, the so-called “insurrection” was treasonous, even in the narrowly defined Constitutional sense. Why? It was an attempt to put an unelected dictator at the head of government, using a violent attack on a major US governmental facility. But with whom are we at war you ask? Well, the group of terrorists who carried out that attack. According to the legal arguments discussed in Larson’s book, the major terrorist groups such as ISIS and the US are functionally at war. A person who aids ISIS can be considered committing treason, if certain other things are in place.

But wait, hold on. If these insurrectionists are “at war” with the US, then they are not really committing treason, they are in essence soldiers. They can’t even be charged with criminal activity and would have to be treated as prisoners of war. That would require their immediate release because hostilities are over. But, what about those who aided them but were not with them? What about those guys??? Treason would apply.

But what does the Civil War say about this? The southern soldiers and generals who were captured during the war were treated as prisoners of war, yet the North never considered the southern states as separate. The northern legal attitude towards the south, in the eyes of Europe was (ideally) “this is not a war between belligerents so don’t aid or recognize the south.” Yet southerners were treated as soldiers. This contradiction was sometimes the focus of much attention at the time, and sometimes ignored. It never, however, went way. So, when the war ended, why weren’t the generals and soldiers and such charged with treason? Because it wasn’t really a war? No. Mainly because of the terms of surrender supplied by General Grant, and the political approach preferred by Lincoln. But what about Jefferson Davis? Why was he not charged with Treason? For that, I’ll let you read the book.

Clearly, little is clear. And, to me, one of the most interesting things about Carlton Larson’s treatment of treason is the degree to which relevant legal arguments are made, to help define treason, in settings where there was never a successful (or in some cases, even unsuccessful) prosecution. One would think that treason law would emerge as a combination of what the US Constitution says and what high court decisions include. Well, there is some of that. But a large amount of the legal conversation, opinions that help us to understand treason law in the US at the Federal level, come from decisions made, in some cases to NOT pursue a case, by US attorneys or other prosecutors, and by lower court judges wrestling with the problem.

In some cases, a treason charge was not made, or failed in court, because of the “two witness” rule or for some other technicality. But, the legally framed conversation that happened among the participants still informs us of what treason might or might not be. Not mentioned above is the idea that the treasonous person must be a citizen of the United States. Turns out, that is not strictly true. Why? Read the book. This part is really fascinating. Generally speaking, the most common outcome of a possible consideration of treason, in US history, has been to not make that charge because it is so difficult. The second most common outcome, possibly (I did not keep count) is to fail in court for similar reasons.

And, I should note, that Larson affirms that very few US Federal treason cases have been brought, and among those that were, few have succeed, because the requirements of the provision are intentionally hard to meet.

I discovered an interesting Reality vs. Wikipedia rip in the chronosynclastic continuum. According to treason expert Larson, only one person in the US has ever been put to death on a Federal treason charge, and he was not a US citizen, and did not commit treason, it was not really in the US but in a recently acquired territory, and perhaps he was not even tried in what would ultimately be considered a legal court. Nonetheless, he was hung by the neck until dead after being convicted of treason. Larson notes that nearly all discussions of treason don’t mention him, and I checked Wikipedia: Hipolito Salazar is not mentioned. However, there is a second person that Larson is mum about who was executed for Treason in the US under apparent Federal authority: William Mumford. Wikipedia says he is the only person so executed, and gives details. I suspect Mumford doesn’t count because he was tried and convicted under Martial Law by a military tribunal, which would be different than being charged with Treason under US jurisdiction and Article II, Section 3, Clause 1. If so, I say, “stand there in your wrongness and be wrong, Wikipedia!” One can argue forever as to whether Mumford was legitimately convicted of this or that law. The statement was made that he was charged and hereby convinced of Treason and he was then executed, right or wrong. But if the law that applied was not Articla II, Section 3, Clause 1, then he does not count, while Salazar does count.

In On Treason: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law Carlton F.W. Larson, a widely recognized expert on Treason law, describes and analyses every case of treason, or almost case of treason, or case of almost treason, in the US (and several cases outside that purview). The history of treason law, also covered in detail, is full of interesting (and sometimes necessary) contradictions. The origin and history of the Constitutional article itself is fascinating.

So the other day, a neighbors house was entered by hooligans, things stolen, and when the neighbors returned (they were out) they found that lots of their stuff had been trashed. Right there in broad daylight. Do you think that the perpetrators should be charged with robbery? If you have a degree in Facebook Law, you will probably swoop in on that statement and say, “why, no, it is not robbery, burglary! They can’t be charged with robbery. Burglary!” But you would be wrong in some states. What you call burglary by you is, in some states, called “housebreaking” if it happens during the day, and this happened during the day. Gotcha.

Treason is a little like that. The concept is centuries old. Most or all US states have treason laws and they vary. As noted above, the definition of Treason is not easy, since it relies on citizenship and a state of war, and also, an understanding of what “helping” the enemy was. All three of these things are tricky concepts.

I think that if you read this book, and you see someone say “so and so should be charged with treason” your immediate response will no longer be (if it was before) either “right, obviously!” or “no, that would be insurrection!”

Donald Trump committed treason in his dealings with Russia, according to me (but Larson says no) but he can’t be charged with Treason because we are not at a sufficient state of war with Russia. Both yes and no are valid answers to the question posed above, in my opinion. Not only is the answer “yes and no” more correct as a response to the question, it is a heck of a lot more interesting, if you bother to find out why. And to do so, read On Treason: A Citizen’s Guide to the Law.

While you are waiting for the book to arrive, have a look at: Treason, the Death Penalty, and American Identity also by Carlton F.W. Larson.


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A parable for the insurrection

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There was the Big Boss, I’ll call him Boss Carl. Then there was the lower boss, I’ll call her The Dragon because that was, in fact, her nickname. Seven or eight people worked for The Dragon. They loved their jobs because it was exactly one of those jobs people decide they must do, but few get to do, and they happen to get to do it. Like being a firefigher if that is what you always wanted to do, but firefighing jobs were rare. But they all hated their jobs because The Dragon … well, you can imagine where she got her name.

But even though they hated their jobs it was hard to leave them for the aforestated reason. Continue reading A parable for the insurrection


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Dear Senator (about that insurrection thing)

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I’m contacting all of my representatives, but I thought this note to Senator Klobuchar was bloggable, so here it is:

Dear Senator Klobuchar,

First, I appreciate the comment you made last night on the RMS, when you turned back an expression of concern about your welfare, noting that you and your colleagues are fine, it is the American people at risk. Continue reading Dear Senator (about that insurrection thing)


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2021 will be an excellent year

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If 2021 involves a tragic airplane crash killing 27 beloved celebrities, has half a US state burn to the ground because of global warming, a medium-bad flu season, and fewer than 8 devastating tropical cyclones, it will be a good year compared to 2020. But I think it will be better than that.

President Biden will not be able to form a cabinet since Mich McConnell will not let him, unless the two Democratic Senatorial candidates in Georgia win, so do work on that. But either way we’ll be fine. If Georgia sends two Democrats to Washington, we can get a national clean car law, start building out utility scale wind and solar, see some real farm support funding that both reduces fossil Carbon release and cleans up farms while reducing debt. We’ll see movement on health care reform (thought that is going to take a more progressive Senators) and major changes in electoral reform. It is not going to be a progressive’s wet dream, but 2021 will not be the political nightmare each of the last four years has been.

If Georgia fails us and we end up with two years of McConnell stopping every little thing Biden tries to do, that two year period will be the final two years of the Republican party, forever, and we’ll see that deterioration so fast it will be a memorable feature of 2021.

During the course of 2021 more than three different Covid-19 vaccines will be deployed and by the end of the year, enough people will be vaccinated that this plague will end. That will be a record breaking plague ending, compared to the other big ones, which usually have gone at least a few years. All plagues end, on their own, or at least have so far. Notice that we are not having a Bubonic Plague right now, and we are not having a 1918 flue pandemic right now. But that usually takes a bit longer. School will be back in session next school year, though perhaps normalcy delayed by a month or a month and a half. By the end of November all the kiddies will be in classrooms.

I suspect the spring back of the economy will be strong. In particular, I’m hoping that at a global level the spring back happens in areas that are now suffering from the kind of para-apocalyptic strife that breeds terrorism and war. Torn up regions of the Levant may become centers of energy production or other economic boom behavior, and less cauldrons of discontent and radicalization. That will take a few years, but it will start in 2021.

I assume the press will give Trump his due, which means, basically, ignoring him. The oxygen of attention starved of his Covid-streaked lungs will kill him, as public entity, and his followers, now the biggest threat to national unity, will forget he existed and crawl back into their politically dark holes. Every year the political orientation of the US shifts from deplorable to reasonable by about 1% (because of differential death rates vs. immigration and education). That means that after an 8 year long Biden-Harris administration with mostly Democrats in Congress, we will be done with them.

We need to see changes start that will take two decades to complete. The coming year, 2021, will be the year the seeds are planted.


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