Pluralistic: 10 Jun 2020

Today's links

How cops spy on Black journalists (permalink)

Writing in Propublica, reporter Wendi C Thomas describes how she discovered that the cops in Memphis, her town, were spying on her.

She discovered that she had been targeted for surveillance as part of an ACLU lawsuit that revealed that Memphis PD had violated its consent decree and undertaken surveillance of the public to track Black Lives Matter activists.

She was one of three journalists targeted by the cops; she says, "My sin, as best I can figure, was having good sources who were local organizers and activists."

Why was MPD banned from conducting domestic surveillance? Because in the sixties, it had spied on teachers, student unions, labor organizers and other justice workers, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

The actions were so egregious that the cops were subjected to a consent decree, but by 2016, they had renewed surveillance of anti-racist activists, maintaining a ban-list of people not allowed in City Hall, including relatives of victims of police murder.

The officer in charge of this, Sgt Timothy Reynolds, a white man, posed as a Black man on Facebook to infiltrate the movement. He gave briefings to large local corporations, including FedEx and Autozone, that requested them.

Reynolds' "intelligence" was "littered with unfounded rumors, misidentified photos of activists and surveillance reports of events that posed no clear threat, such as a black food truck festival."

One of the consequences of this surveillance and the enemies lists that Reynolds compiled was that Thomas was barred from interviewing the mayor, despite Thomas's standing as a pillar of Memphis journalism.

Thomas never got an answer from Reynolds about why he'd added her to his list of suspicious people. But she used public records requests to get a look at the file he'd illegally compiled on her. She found the most petty, idiotic shit.

Reynolds had saved a social media post she'd been tagged in that reproced a screenshot of ANOTHER social media post a local cop had made, one with "an offensive image."

He'd saved Facebook posts in which Thomas had shared an announcement of a grassroots activist meeting – a meeting she hadn't attended or organized, because she was at Harvard at the time, doing a fellowship.

Thomas has lived through retaliation from the city ever since she objected to being put on a secret enemies list. In one case, the mayor's office schemed with the Crime Commission to ensure that other journalists got key details on her stores before she did.

She's had to sue to be included in the distribution list for the city's media advisories.

It's the most petty, inane, paranoid bullshit imaginable, an indictment of a thin-skinned city government cowering in its basement, jumping at shadows, terrified of truth-tellers.

Teen Vogue on surviving rubber bullets (permalink)

The transformation of Teen Vogue into a radical leftist publication is one of the brightest spots in this ridiculous timeline. I am so here for their big think pieces explaining socialist feminism:

And for their timely dunks on the likes of Andrew Cuomo, whose shuck they were onto long before he publicly sided with the violent criminals in uniform that have turned NYC into a battleground.

And now, true to the spirit of lifestyle mags, they've got some practical advice for readers: "What to Do If the Police Shoot You With a Rubber Bullet," by Laura Pitcher.

tldr: Rubber bullets aren't (just, or always) rubber, and they can kill or maim you. Wear protective clothing. Watch out for collateral injuries as you race to flee the cops who are shooting you for protesting police violence.

Seek medical care, because fractures aren't always obvious (co-signed – I once stood up and walked for like 15 mins after getting creamed by a drunk on my bike; I didn't walk without crutches for 6 months afterwards).

If a fragment is lodged in your body (or eye socket, etc), get a doctor to remove it. Don't try to remove it for yourself.

Look, it's fucking terrible that Teen Vogue has to explain this stuff to its readers.

But it's fucking amazing that they're there to explain it.

How Do We Change America? (permalink)

One of the most important, wide-ranging and concrete essays I've read on the current uprising comes from Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in the New Yorker: "How Do We Change America?"

Taylor quotes MLK Jr, shortly before his assassination: "In a sense, I guess you could say, we are engaged in the class struggle." That is, the struggle for Black liberation isn't just about bigotry, it's discriminatory policies in education, housing, health, retirement, etc.

Taylor demands that we look at these structural issues, widening the frame. When Obama decries the burning down of the only grocery store in a Black neighborhood, Taylor asks, "Why is there only a single grocery store in this woman’s neighborhood?"

When Obama tells us to look to the recommendations from his 2015, "Task Force on 21st Century Policing," Taylor asks "Why do police reforms continue to fail?" In other words, don't just ask why the police are racist, ask why they remain racist.

When Biden calls for "accountability, oversight, and community policing," Taylor points out that this is basically a quote from the Kerner Commission report…

…From 1967.

Taylor doesn't lay out a course from the current state of affairs to a better one, rather she traces the repeated failures brought on by trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

She calls on us to try something different. To expand the frame "beyond the racism and brutality of the police"- beyond "the barbarism of the act that stole George Floyd’s life." The problem with focusing on these acts of barbarism is they make the tent too broad.

Many people can credibly take a stance against murdering someone by slow asphyxiation under color of law, while still being monsters. Focusing on spectacular police violence GW Bush, the butcher of New Orleans, the hanging governor of Texas, to claim solidarity.

GW Bush and I are not part of the same struggle. If your struggle's demands are so modest that GW Bush can get behind them, you might want to take stock of that struggle.

The movement needs to articulate a program that GW Bush would never, could never, co-sign.

Taylor: "We must also discuss the conditions of economic inequality that, when they intersect with racial and gender discrimination, disadvantage African-Americans while also making them vulnerable to police violence."

The problem with America isn't the "depraved individuals" that murdered George Floyd: it's the system that gave those murderers badges and guns and qualified immunity.

Taylor: "The quest to transform this country cannot be limited to challenging its brutal police alone. It must conquer the logic that finances police and jails at the expense of public schools and hospitals."

My theory of social change is that movement growth is a "scalloped curve" in which you have a "normal" state that is disrupted by a spectacular event, like a ghastly police murder. This mobilizes supporters who had other priorities, and brings in new supporters.

The spectacle fades, and many of those people drift away to more immediate causes, like feeding their families and paying their mortgages. But the new "normal" is higher than the old one, because for some of those people, the cause is the most important thing in their lives.

Each event raises the "normal" level to a higher place, until events reach a tipping-point of broad-based support from both disfavored and favored classes, whose solidarity mean that repressive police tactics are no longer politically feasible.

Ironically, it's these "mixed" protests, filled with members of protected affluent classes, that get called "peaceful" – not because their participants are less militant, but because the police can't afford to start beating the shit out of them.

And here's where Taylor sees a glimmer of hope, because while the Rodney King uprisings were overwhelmingly Black, the current waves of protests are "stunning in their racial solidarity."

Taylor: "The whitest states in the country, including Maine and Idaho, have had protests involving thousands of people. And it’s not just students or activists; the demands for an end to this racist violence have mobilized a broad range of ordinary people who are fed up."

Today's protests are bigger and broader than the uprisings that came before: "they have built upon the vivid memories of previous failures, and refuse to submit to empty or rhetoric-driven calls for change."

"This is evidence again of how struggles build upon one another and are not just recycled events from the past."

Time to retheme Splash Mountain (permalink)

Disney made a lot of…uh, problematic…movies, but none quite so indefensible as Song of the South, a Reconstruction movie in which a formerly enslaved man tells a young, wealthy white boy about how nice things were during the slavery era.

When was this movie made, you ask? During the 20s? Perhaps the 30s? No, 1946. Walt knew it would be trouble – so much so that he actually hired a blacklisted Communist to do a pass on the screenplay in hopes that this would deflect criticism.

"See, a Red worked on it! It can't be reactionary!"

You know what's weirder and more terrible than Song of the South, though?



Splash Mountain, which opened in 1989, was supposed to just be a great, fun flume ride. But then Michael Eisner was anointed CEO of Disney in 85, having fended off corporate raiders who wanted to break the company up for parts.

And he looked at this flume ride on the drawing board and said, "Shit, we should theme this thing for that super-racist movie that we're now so officially embarrassed about that we no longer allow theaters to screen it and that we will never release on VHS.

"If there's one thing the kids love, it's minstrelsy. This thing will slay."

The compromise that Splash Mountain struck was to only include Br'er Fox, Bear and Rabbit, and to expunge Uncle Remus entirely.

(Uncle Remus still haunts the ride, in a series of grossly offensive quotations on signs in the queue that rhapsodize over the living conditions of enslaved people)

Which brings us to 2020 and ::gestures vaguely:: all of this.

This is the moment, as @tiahsoka says, for a "Disney retheme splash mountain challenge!"

Tia's challenge has attracted many excellent contenders, but none so good as @FreddyFromBatuu, a castmember who proposes "Princess and the Frog was made to replace Splash Mountain. The Laughing plece is replaced with the Other Side."

To which I say:



If you want to learn (lots) more about Song of the South, the canonical source is Karina Longworth's superb You Must Remember This podcast series on the movie:

Longworth makes some very discomfiting comments on the whole area of Disneyland that includes Splash Mountain, starting with New Orleans Square, themed for the time in which NOLA was the continent's most notorious slave market.

And including my beloved Haunted Mansion, which, as Longworth points out, is an antebellum mansion, between a slavery-era New Orleans Square and Splash Mountain, a celebration of slavery, and which is full of the ghosts of white people.

Which offers you this chilling challenge: to retheme the Haunted Mansion!

Appeals court rejects judge who wanted $65m for lost pants (permalink)

After 15 years, former administrative law judge and committed vexatious litigant Roy Pearson, Jr has met with another setback in his quest to sue his dry cleaner for $65,000,000 for losing a pair of his pants in 2005.

Pearson's case turns on his dry cleaner's sign that advertised "satisfaction guaranteed." In his view, this means that his dry cleaner is legally obligated to do anything and everything until Pearson is satisfied.

The dry cleaners offered several perfectly reasonable settlements, each of which was rejected by Judge Pearson, who eventually demanded $65m, and also $10k, on demand, whenever feelings of dissatisfaction seemed on his mental horizon.

He lost his job over this, and sued for wrongful termination, and lost, and appealed, and lost. The DC Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed ethics charges, which he contested, lost.

He appealed that loss, naturally, and now, he has lost. Again. The court found that Pearson's dry cleaner litigation was "preposterous" and that Pearson had interfered with the justice system by bypassing small claims court, suing in superior court instead.

Writing in Lowering the Bar, Kevin Underhill points out that Pearson could still take his case to the Supreme Court, so we may be in for still more Pants Follies. Here's Underhill's comprehensive history of the caper:

Compton's Black cowboys ride out (permalink)

Earlier this week, 1,000+ people marched on the courthouse in Compton, LA; they were joined by the Compton Cowboys, a Black riding club, along with friends who formed a procession of 100+ riders.

The LATACO gallery of photos from the ride might just be the most wholesome, heartening images you see on the net this week.

Black cowboys are part of the American story, albeit one that has been thoroughly erased from our popular narratives. One in four cowboys on the American frontier was Black.

But Black riders remember their history, and they're giving everyone else long-overdue history lessons. It's not just in LA, either – Houston's Non-Stop Riderz are an incredible addition to the city's protests.

Wargame based on the 1968 Chicago police riots (permalink)

One of the 20th century's most celebrated street battles was the Chicago Police Riots of 1968, when CPD descended on protesters who'd convened on the Democratic National Convention.

Notably, it was the first time cops clubbed reporters alongside protesters, and thus it was the first time the press shared images of the brutality that US cops had visited upon antiwar and civil rights demonstrators.

It led to one of the most bizarre political criminal cases in US history, the Trial of the Chicago 7 (reduced from the Chicago 8 after Bobby Seale was severed from the case, after being repeatedly chained and gagged in the courtroom).

In 1970, Strategy & Tactics Magazine – the oldest of the wargaming magazines – ran an issue with a cut-and-play game called Chicago! Chicago!, in which players pitted the cops and the demonstrators against each other.

It's a frankly bizarre artifact, and I spent quite a bit of time blowing up images from Board Game Geek and trying to figure out what it must have been like to play it in 1970.

If I could get a scan at sufficiently hi-rez, I'd be tempted to frame and hang that game-board.

LRAD shields (permalink)

The long range acoustic device (LRAD) is a "less-lethal" focused-sound antipersonnel weapon that has made several appearances in the current round of anti-police-violence protests, wielded by cops to rout and demoralize crowds.

In addition to the threat they pose to protesters' fundamental rights to seek redress, LRAPs are credibly associated with permanent hearing damage in their victims.

Dave and Gabe run a sound studio. Alarmed by the use of LRAPs, the sound engineers built a sonic-cannon shield that doubles as a protest sign.

As Dave Rife told Motherboard's Janus Rose, "The idea is there could be a few of these in a car, driven to the location where someone has seen an LRAD, and then carried by hand from there."

The shields are made "from a pine batten structure filled with recycled denim insulation, and covered by a half inch of clear acrylic on both sides, enabling the user to see ahead through a small window."

MMT in the NYT (permalink)

Happy book birthday to Stephanie Kelton on the publication of her long-awaited "The Deficit Myth," a book that could NOT be more timely in this moment of massive structural unemployment and trillions of free money for the wealthiest among us.

Kelton is one of the leading proponents of Modern Monetary Theory, which describes how money actually works, as a series of accounting flows, and makes some profound observations about the implications of understanding how government spending actually works.

I've written about Kelton's work before:

But here's the shortest possible summary I can give:

Money issuers (sovereign states) have a different relationship to money and debt than money users (everyone else: people, companies, local governments).

Governments don't spend our taxes. Governments spend new money into existence and tax some of it back out of existence. Governments get new money from the same place Starbucks gets new gift-card codes: by typing entries into spreadsheets.

Governments aren't "monetarily constrained." If something is for sale in a currency the government prints, it can buy it. Governments are constrained by resources – that is, which things are for sale in its currency: labor, resources, manufacturing capacity.

Government "debts" aren't like household debts. If governments owe debts in their own currency, they can pay by creating more currency (it's different when the debts are in another currency: Venezuela can't pay US dollar debts by printing Venezuelan bolivars).

Government debts are where our money comes from. Governments spend money into existence: if they "balance their budgets" then they tax all that money back out again. That's why austerity always leads to economic contraction – governments are taxing away too much money.

There's one other source of money, of course: bank loans. Banks have governments charters to loan money that they don't actually have on hand (contrary to what you've been taught, banks don't loan out their deposits).

When there's not enough government money in circulation, people seek bank loans to fill the gap. Unlike federal debts, bank loans turn a profit for bank investors. The more austerity, the more bank loans, the more profits for the finance sector (at everyone else's expense).

So talk of "fiscal responsibility" from business groups is just a pretence for creating the conditions in which they earn interest every time someone needs money that the government has withdrawn from the economy and has to pay financiers for it instead.

You can tell that business leaders don't really care about deficits: that's why they cheered the 2008 bailout, the 2018 tax bill, and the trillions that Congress has gifted to America's largest corporations since the crisis.

As Kelton pointed out in her recent interview with Marketplace, these firms know that deficits aren't necessarily inflationary – inflation is when there's more money than there are things for sale in that currency.

The pro-oligarch squad opposes government spending that makes everyday people better off because it makes it harder to coerce them into predatory loans and unfair working conditions – not because of inflation.

After all, today, 25-35% of our workers have no market for their labor – the private sector doesn't want that work. The feds could spend the money into existence to give each one of those workers meaningful employment doing care work and environmental remediation.

Forget the (laudable) goals of #FightFor15: the true US "minimum wage" is $0/hour, which is what the people who can't find work earn for their labor. A federal jobs guarantee would put a true floor under the price of labor in America.

Kelton writes superbly about this, with a flair that is rare among economists. To celebrate her book's publication, she's published an op-ed in the New York Times: "Why I’m Not Worried About America’s Trillion-Dollar Deficits."

Like many of us, Kelton initially agreed with Margaret Thatcher's 1983 speech: "the state has no source of money other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more, it can only do so by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more."

But after Kelton read Warren Mosler's "Soft Currency Economics," and discussed it with him in person, she had a profound realization about the true nature of money – and the needless cruelty and waste of austerity.

Her first published paper, 2016's "Do Taxes and Bonds Finance Government Spending?," was a landmark attempt to bring Mosler's ideas to academic economics.

Four years later, we're living in an MMT world, with Congress engaged in multitrillion dollar spending without any Pelosian "payfors" in sight.

Kelton: "Every economy faces a speed limit, regulated by the availability of its real productive resources — the state of technology and the quantity and quality of its land, workers, factories, machines and other materials. If any government tries to spend too much into an economy that’s running at full speed, inflation will accelerate. So there are limits. However, the limits are not in our government’s ability to spend money or to sustain large deficits. What MMT does is distinguish the real limits from wrongheaded, self-imposed constraints."

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Clay Shirky's COGNITIVE SURPLUS: how the net lets us share and do more than ever

#5yrsago Anarchy in the UK Mastercards

#5yrsago Being a cop just keeps on getting safer

#5yrsago UK schools using spyware to monitor students' ideology

#1yrago The NRA begs gun nuts for donations, spends lavishly on its board of directors and execs

#1yrago On Grenfell's second anniversary, 60,000 Britons are still living in firetraps clad in the same deadly, decorative materials

#1yrago A grandmother is suing the TSA for strip searching her to get a look at her panty liner, on Mother's Day

#1yrago A trove of leaks show that Brazil's "anti-corruption" task force was secretly trying to oust Lula and install a far-right strongman

#1yrago Americans are too poor to survive whether or not they're working

#1yrago Weekend SIM-swapping blitz targets US cryptocurrency holders

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Kottke (, Super Punch (, Slashdot (, Fipi Lele, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 589 words (25345 total).

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