Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trump's Friday Night Massacre

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
The current political landscape in America has such a surreal quality these days that the fictional political worlds depicted on TV shows like Netflix's House of Cards and HBO's VEEP look like tamer versions of reality in comparison.

After having a few drinks at my local on Friday night, the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe just 26 hours before the 21-year FBI veteran was set to retire, left me floored.

Now Trump has done so many incredibly stupid things since being inaugurated, that ineptitude has become sort of a default mode for a chaotic White House that revolves around his narcissism, insecurity, ignorance and paranoia.

But his decision to order Sessions to fire McCabe late Friday night ranks as quite possibly one of the most vile, petty and monumentally-stupid actions ever undertaken by a sitting U.S. president.

Trump interfering in a federal agency's firing of a career employee over an internal disciplinary matter undermines the role of the FBI as a law enforcement body independent of partisan politics - though it has unfortunately been used that way in the past.

In a statement justifying McCabe's firing 26 hours before his previously-announced resignation would take effect, sanctimonious AG Jeff Sessions claimed that the FBI's internal disciplinary office and the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz (both of whom Sessions oversees...) found "that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor - including under oath - on multiple occasions."

Remember, Sessions perjured himself under oath during Senate hearings by lying about multiple contacts he and other members of the Trump campaign staff had with Russian individuals before the election.

Dept. of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz
So he's got some cojones pointing his finger at anyone because they "lacked candor". 

Especially after firing someone late on a Friday night in a cowardly attempt to minimize the political fallout from a White House action that reeks of authoritarian overreach and vindictive pettiness.

There's something childish and trite about it that's beneath the presidency.

After all McCabe, who served as acting head of the FBI for three months last year after Trump fired James Comey, had already yielded to White House pressure and announced his resignation.

So Trump's action, essentially denying McCabe government pension benefits he earned over the course of a 21-year career at the FBI, comes off as overkill motivated by Trump's own petty personal political vendetta.

And is clearly part of Trump's desire to convince the public that he's the victim of a vast Democratic conspiracy and purge the top ranks of the FBI until he can appoint someone who will fire Robert Mueller to end the special investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But despite his quasi-delusional perception of the world, Trump's not a king or a CEO.

Not only has McCabe lawyered-up, as ABC News' Mike Levine reported on Saturday afternoon, an unnamed source says that the highly-intelligent former protege of former FBI Director James Comey (like his ex boss) kept detailed written memos of his meetings with Trump.

Memos which were turned over to the special investigation being headed up by Robert Mueller and could be potentially used to corroborate James Comey's testimony about Trump's efforts to obstruct justice by asking Comey to back off an investigation of former General Michael Flynn.

Despite having no idea of what kind of evidence Robert Mueller is sitting on, Trump woke up this morning and began spinning the baseless accusation that McCabe is lying about taking notes during meetings he had with 45 - who, predictably, is now calling them "fake memos".

Par for the course for America's "very stable genius."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Defacing Intelligent Discourse

The Asheville Fraternal Order of Police building
Monday's report by local North Carolina ABC affiliate station WLOS that an as-yet unnamed individual spray-painted 'Black Lives Matter' on the front exterior of the Asheville Fraternal Order of Police building is troubling.

It reflects the deep divisions resulting from the videotape of ex-APD officer Chris Hickman beating, tasing and choking Johnnie Rush last August after stopping him for jaywalking.

As WLOS reported, the defacing of the Asheville FOP building (pictured above) happened early Monday morning, and though the suspect also vandalized the windows of an AFOP van and attempted to disable security cameras, he was still caught on tape.

Local news affiliates who covered the story report that he appears to be a white guy wearing a hoodie.

According to local NC television affiliate WSPA, the AFOP president Rondell Lance told reporters that he'd personally already condemned the actions of Chris Hickman.

Lance also said he doesn't believe the building was defaced by anyone associated with the Asheville chapter of Black Lives Matter.

He believes it was someone with their own agenda trying to further fuel divisiveness.

Now as I write this on Thursday night, not a whole lot is known about this guy is; or why he did this.

A BLM protest in Minnesota in spring, 2015
But he clearly wasn't dispatched by Black Lives Matter to spray paint a police organization's building with the name of their organization.

According to their Webpage, the Black Lives Matter mission statement reads (in part): "The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes."

The phony, one-dimensional descriptions of BLM peddled by opportunistic conservative ex-politician blowhards like Chris Christie and Fear Meister Rudy Giuliani, or the usual media suspects of quack, right-wing media like Laura Ingraham, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh, demonize BLM as some kind of violent terrorist splinter cell.

But in reality BLM is actually about peaceful, non-violent dissent, organized community action and education -  not spray-painting police property in the dead of night.

As a lover of the freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, I'm all for Freedom of Expression in all it's many forms.

But to me, defacing property with spray paint, or anything else for that matter, is just plain wrong.

And it's vandalism, like the kind we saw on the walls of schools, people's vehicles and homes in the days following Trump's election in November, 2016 - including the swastikas some right-wing derelict spray painted on the walls of my elementary school in Bethesda, Maryland.

Some of the thousands of students who walked out
of school to protest gun violence on Wednesday 
If someone wants to use writing to express their opposition about something, by all means put it on a sign, in an op-ed, book, magazine, social media platform or blog.

Hell, you can write on yourself (or your own property) if you want to, but to me it's just low-rent to deface public or private property with your own personal agenda.

If you want to protest something, engage in peaceful organized resistance like students across the U.S. did on Wednesday to advocate for stricter gun control laws.

There's little question that those students were, in part, inspired by the BLM-organized marches and protests that have taken place in cities and towns across America over the past four years - sparked by the outrage over the judicial system holding no one legally accountable for the unjustified killings of unarmed African-American teenagers Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and so many others.

BLM's membership (and supporters) is made up of people of all races, so my guess would be that the individual in the hoodie who defaced the AFOP building early Monday is more than likely someone trying to steer anger over the Chris Hickman videotape onto the BLM movement.

BLM had nothing to do with Chris Hickman harassing, beating, tasing and choking Johnnie Rush as he was walking home from his job washing dishes last August.

As writer and Huffington Post contributor Gennette Cordova observed on her Twitter feed yesterday, "Video surveillance has shown that a white person did this, which all black people knew when they initially saw this story."

Whoever spray painted that building tried to use a lie to stir up the divisiveness and hatred regularly cultivated by Trump - in doing so he defaced intelligent discourse on issues that are critical to the American people as a whole.

This morning's Washington Post article about Cadet Bonespurs having bragged to a crowd of Republican donors in Missouri Wednesday night that he intentionally lied to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the U.S. having a trade deficit with our neighbors to the north shows that the hoodie-guy in Asheville isn't the only one using a lie to sew division.

No doubt they both want to Make America Great Again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Price of Walking Home: Chris Hickman Charged

Ex-Asheville PD Officer Chris Hickman
The disturbing body cam footage of ex-Asheville PD officer Chris Hickman brutally punching, choking and tasing 33 year-old Johnnie Rush on the night of August 25, 2017 is a sobering reminder of the extent to which internalized racial bias continues to fuel the unnecessary use of excessive physical force by some members of the American law enforcement community.

Hickman's sarcastic and cynical taunting, and his sadistic beating of a citizen is egregious enough - after being choked into unconsciousness, Rush is lucky to be alive.

Small wonder this sickening example of police brutality took almost seven month's to be released.

But what makes this incident even more disturbing is the fact that Rush was simply walking home after a long shift washing dishes at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant.

He wasn't fleeing a bank robbery, running with a loaded gun in his hand, or trying to evade the police - the man was walking home from work.

Municipal ordinances that selectively target "Manner of Walking" have been the subject of this blog on more than one occasion - starting in the wake of the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by ex-Ferguson PD officer Darren Wilson in August, 2014.

An in-depth investigation of the Ferguson Police Department's policing practices by the Department of Justice in 2015 found that a staggering 95% of people stopped by Ferguson PD officers for one of several "Manner of Walking" ordinances were African-American.

To put that statistic into perspective, according to 2010 Census data 67.4% of Ferguson residents were African-American, 29.3% were white.

The practice of some police officers essentially criminalizing individuals for walking down the street, or even allowing officers to randomly decide that the manner in which an individual walks merits suspicion, or justifies a legal excuse to stop and frisk someone, certainly isn't limited to Missouri.

For example back on October 19, 2016, I blogged about a white, plain-clothes Minnesota police officer Tim Olson being videotaped by a passing driver as he accosted and arrested an African-American man named Larnie Thomas who was walking along the side of the road in broad daylight.

Asheville (NC) Police Chief Tammy Hooper 
But the incident with Christopher Hickman is unusual in that it's a police stop based on how and where someone was walking - one that resulted in such a violent beating being caught on police videotape.

Local residents who packed the Asheville Citizens Police Advisory Committee meeting last Wednesday night, were understandably angered, confused and looking for answers about Hickman's conduct.

Like many over the past few days, I've been trying to figure out why Asheville, North Carolina police chief Tammy Hooper took five months to launch a criminal investigation - and given the potential legal liability based on Hickman's behavior, why the Asheville City Council was kept in the dark for months too.

In a thoughtful and detailed op-ed on the incident published in the Asheville Citizen Times last Friday, City Council member Vijay Kapoor noted that Chief Hooper immediately took Hickman's badge and gun after Johnnie Rush filed a use of force complaint the day after the incident and she watched the videotape.

As Kapoor notes, she also placed Hickman on administrative duty - this was all within about 24 hours of the incident taking place.

But if you take some time to read Kapoor's comments, the investigation seems to have morphed into an intentionally slow-footed combination of bureaucratic foot-dragging by the Asheville Police Department, the City Attorney's Office and the City Manager's Office.

If Chief Hooper felt that Hickman's behavior in the videotape was bad enough that it warranted taking his badge and gun and pulling him off the street - why didn't she push harder for an independent investigation?

Johnnie Rush after Hickman's beating 
Or report the incident to the City Council?

The result seems to be sort of a ping-pong match between an APD internal investigation and the District Attorney wavering on whether or not to file charges against Hickman - and nothing happened.

That is until the videotape was finally leaked to the Asheville Citizen Times in February six months after the incident and the story blew up.

With national media attention suddenly focused on Asheville's handling of the incident amid growing outrage over the videotaped beating of Johnnie Rush, charges were filed against Hickman last Thursday - including assault by strangulation and assault inflicting serious injury.

Additionally, as the Charlotte Observer reported on Monday, the Buncombe County DA's office quickly announced it is dropping charges against 17 different people arrested by Hickman.

The FBI is reportedly investigating the incident, but with Attorney General Jeff Sessions (a proven racist who scaled back DOJ investigations of racially-biased police departments) heading up the Department of Justice, it's highly doubtful anything substantive will come of that.

But the important thing is the truth came out, even if it did take six months for the video to finally be seen by the public and the Asheville City Council - and more importantly Christopher Hickman was taken off the street and forced to resign from the APD in January.

Time will tell what becomes of the assault charges filed against him.

Would any of this had happened had the body-cam footage not been leaked to the press?

Probably not.

Johnnie Rush would likely have been charged with trespassing, jaywalking and resisting arrest etc., his complaint likely would have been swept under the rug, and in the end it would have been the word of a black man in North Carolina against two white Asheville PD officers.

And no one would ever know the price he paid for walking home.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Narrow Scope of Republican Justice

Trump's name is removed from a Panama hotel after
his company was accused of mismanagement  
Increasingly, it seems clear that the scope of "justice" as defined by the Republican Party that now controls both the White House and both chambers of Congress, is remarkably limited to targeting those seen by some conservatives as "others".

The traditional role of the Department of Justice, as the nation's top independent legal authority, has been usurped to function as a de facto enforcer of the right-wing ideology that defines the Trump administration.

While former top White House adviser Steve Bannon was over in Paris on Saturday extolling members of France's far right political party the National Front to embrace their racism and xenophobic views, here in the U.S., rampant violations of protocol, ethics, laws and morality by the White House go all but ignored by the racist perjurer masquerading as attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

Despite a court ruling in Panama last week in favor of a majority investor in the Trump Panama City hotel named Orestes Fintiklis, who filed suit to oust the Trump Organization because of serious lapses in management of the property, you won't find Sessions directing Department of Justice resources towards investigating any of Trump's numerous violations of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution - which expressly forbids those holding office from receiving "profit", "benefit" or "advantage of any kind" from the title of his or her elected office.

After directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to launch Operation Keep Safe, yet another round of crack-of-dawn anti-immigrant arrests in northern California two weeks ago, last Wednesday Sessions announced the DOJ was suing the state of California over three state laws intended to protect immigrant's rights.

As NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams reported last Tuesday, Sessions' lawsuit targets SB-54, AB-450 and AB-103, three laws recently passed by the California legislature intended to put into place protections that would limit the federal government's ability to arrest undocumented immigrants at their place of employment, or target them in court or upon release from jail.
Part of California's Adelanto Detention Facility
owned and run by the GEO Group 
According to Williams, Sessions is even going after state law AB-103, "which requires the state to inspect detention facilities where federal authorities are holding immigrants who face deportation." 
Just consider that last one for a moment.

Jeff Sessions is suing California for passing a law that would mandate state inspections of federal facilities where deportees are being held.

Facilities like the Adelanto Detention Facility (pictured above), a privately-operated facility located in a remote desert region of San Bernardino County, California 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles with a capacity of about 2,000 male and female detainees.

As journalist Paloma Esquivel reported in an LA Times article in August, 2017, the Adelanto facility,  has gained notoriety for a series of suicides, hunger strikes and deaths of detainees while in custody since it first opened in 2011.

Deaths like that of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos back in 2015.

As Esquivel's LA Times piece notes, in the months leading up to his death, in one of the two written  complaints Ramos submitted to Adelanto officials, he told them:

"To who receives this, I am letting you know that I am very sick and they don't want to care for me. The nurse gave me ibuprofen, and that only alleviates me for a few hours. Let me know if you can help me, I only need medial attention."

GEO Group CEO George Foley
A medical report released after Ramos' death in detention noted that he had an abdominal mass which had been present for months - as Esquivel observed, a doctor who examined him wrote that it was "the largest she has ever seen in her practice."

As journalist Mirren Gidda reported in an article for Newsweek, two days after then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that Department of Justice would begin scaling back federal use of private for-profit prisons on August 17, 2016, a subsidiary of the GEO Group donated $100,000 to Rebuilding America Now - a pro-Trump Political Action Committee.

A month later GEO gave $200,000 to another Republican PAC (the Senate Leadership Fund) and on November 1st, just days before the 2016 presidential election, GEO gave another $125,000 to the pro-Trump PAC.

So it's not surprising why Attorney General Jeff Sessions is suing California for passing a law mandating state inspections of federal facilities like Adelanto - shedding light on GEO Group's controversial record of management of juvenile and adult prison facilities across the U.S. is certainly not in the interest of the Trump administration.

Especially considering that as a U.S. Senator Sessions was not only one of the leading anti-immigration advocates on Capitol Hill, he also opposed bipartisan legislation to reduce mass incarceration in American prisons.

And as Trump's attorney general he's advocated ramping up the incarceration of undocumented immigrants as well as non-violent drug offenders since day one.

Given the fallout from media coverage of the rampant ongoing chaos of the White House following the recent resignations of Communications Director Hope Hicks and Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, it hardly comes as a surprise that Sessions would initiate a lawsuit against the state of California for its efforts to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants.

Republicans spent most of former President Obama's two terms in office whining about overreach by "Big Government", so the idea of a Republican attorney general expanding federal authority to try and trample individual state efforts to protect their immigrant populations represents a pretty remarkable change of government philosophy for both Sessions and the Republican Party.

In fact it's a total 180 degree turn that reveals that Republicans like Big Government when it suits their own ideological or financial needs and wants.

Spencer Hogue and Evelyn and Albert Turner, also
known as "The Marion Three"
Historically, when it came to the Republican Party using race as a wedge issue to expand its support among white working-class voters in the 60's, 70's and 80's, "States Rights" was the clarion call-codeword  used to champion the rights of individual states to oppose federally-mandated laws on school desegregation, voting rights and the enforcement of civil rights.

The Confederacy rallied behind "States Rights" as the right of southern states to keep the institution of slavery intact.

While Jefferson Beauregard Sessions (named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard) was born and raised in a rabidly pro-States Rights segregated Alabama, he demonstrated a willingness to use the power of the federal government to reflect his own racist ideology early in his professional career.

When he was serving as the U.S. attorney for the Office of the Southern District of Alabama in 1985, Sessions decided to try and prosecute three well-known and respected local civil rights activists, Albert Turner, his wife Evelyn Turner and Spencer Hogue, Jr. (pictured above) for voter fraud.

The Turners and Hogue, who became known as the "The Marion Three", had worked doggedly to help poor African-Americans in rural Perry County, Alabama register to vote and participate in the voting process in a county in which blacks were the numerical majority.

As Scott Zamost, Drew Griffin and Curt Devine reported in an article for, Albert Turner had worked as an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and marched alongside the civil rights icon in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 in support of voting rights.

Turner formed the Perry County Civic League to help consolidate and expand black representation in local politics, and Sessions tried to prosecute him, his wife and Hogue on 29 separate charges of tampering with voting ballots during the 1984 Democratic presidential primary.

Then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions during 1986 Senate
hearings for his failed nomination to the federal bench
While a grand jury indicted The Marion Three, they were eventually found not guilty and acquitted of all charges in a highly-publicized case that was widely seen as "racially motivated."

Especially considering the institutional segregation and voter oppression which had left blacks in Perry County marginalized in terms of political representation and county services for years.

The Marion Three case exposed Sessions' views on race and eventually helped to sink his nomination to be a federal judge.

His highly-publicized Senate hearings in 1986 included testimony from four different lawyers who'd worked with Sessions in the Office of the Southern District of Alabama - all four testified about a variety of different comments Sessions had made in DOJ offices that were seen as racist and demonstrated his personal contempt for civil rights and organizations like the NAACP.

Coretta Scott King famously penned an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging Sessions's nomination to the federal bench be denied because of his having used the power of his office to "intimidate and frighten elderly black voters."

While he eventually withdrew his nomination to be a federal judge, he was later elected State Attorney General of Alabama in 1995 where he championed a state school funding model that disproportionally underfunded majority-African-American schools - a model which was later found to be unconstitutional.

Anyway that's who Jeff Sessions is.

ICE agents escorting an immigrant to plane
His announcement of a lawsuit against the state of California last week to try and attack legitimate efforts to protect immigrants within their borders is simply a reflection of the overt racial bias he demonstrated in his attempts to prosecute The Marion Three for voter fraud back in 1984.

As much as Trump demeans him publicly, including referring to him as "Mr. Magoo" recently, Jeff Sessions is exactly what the Trump administration ordered.

An attorney general whose archaic views on immigrants, people of color and mass incarceration are informed by his own personal bigotry.

One who is willing to use the power of the Department of Justice as a tool to enforce the "otherism" that lies at the heart of chaotic right-wing ideology of the Trump administration - and twist the DOJ's mission to enable it to function like a quasi-Gestapo where immigrants are concerned.

It's a reflection of the narrow scope of justice as interpreted by the Trump administration and the Republican politicians on Capitol Hill who remain silent - content to savor their precious tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, while chaos reigns in the White House.

And inside the immigrant communities they vilify.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Powerless Ponderings By Atomic Beam

One of many large tree limbs that fell at my apartment
complex during the Nor'easter on Wednesday
After outlining some thoughts on Tuesday, it was actually my intent to post a blog on Wednesday, but Mother Nature clearly had other ideas.

Yesterday the second Nor'easter in six days slammed into the east coast like it was trying to make a point.

While incredibly high winds defined the Nor'easter that left at least seven people dead last Friday, yesterday's storm dropped some really heavy snowfall in a short time.

For those of you who don't live on the eastern coast of the U.S., when I say heavy, I don't just mean intense snowfall (which it was), it was a dose of that physically-heavy, really wet snow that's really hard to shovel - it also takes its toll on trees, power lines and the human body.

I'm no Gordon Parks, but take a look at the photo above I took this morning as I drove around the apartment complex in Hamilton, New Jersey where I work and live - that's a 70-foot section of a huge tree that just toppled from the weight of all that wet snow yesterday.

The grounds crew had to use the backhoe to push it up next to the snow bank to clear the driveway until we can get the tree surgeons we use out to cut it up and haul it away.

A bunch of large limbs and branches like that one fell all over the property yesterday, at least two cars got crushed - fortunately they were parked and no one was inside them at the time.

Early Wednesday morning it was about 47 degrees out and it was basically just light cold rain / snow that wasn't really sticking - and I thought maybe the Nor'easter warnings had been a bit hyped.

Anthony Gonzalez perished when he drove over a
live power line in Franklin Lake, NJ on Wednesday 
But around 12:30pm the snow suddenly got heavier like someone had turned on a big spigot and the temperature dropped - and big flakes started coming down hard.

It was actually kind of eerie sitting in my office because I could hear thunder rumbling (yes, thunder while it was snowing) and after a couple hours I started hearing these big cracks as limbs started falling from the weight of all the snow.

The storm proved deadly to a driver about 90 minutes north of here in Franklin Lakes, NJ just northwest of Paterson.

According to an article, the driver, identified as 40-year-old Anthony Gonzalez, supposedly tried to drive around a barrier that had been erected around a downed, live power line which electrocuted the vehicle, which then became engulfed in flames - he was found inside when firemen arrived at the scene just before 9am this morning.

An article in The Bergen Record posted on North reports that Gonzalez was on the way over to his 61-year-old father's house to help shovel snow when his vehicle struck the wire.

Which is about as heartbreaking as it gets.

Like state offices and schools, all our regional New Jersey offices were closed, but I can walk to my office in about a minute, so I went in just to get some busy work out of the way and answer emails while I listened to NPR, but I left when the snow had reached about six or seven inches - and it was nasty out.

I don't think I was in my apartment more than about 20 minutes or so, it was like 4:20pm, and I'd started working on the blog I'd planned to post yesterday when I walked into the kitchen to take some stuff out for dinner when my radio suddenly went dead.

I got this bad feeling just as I looked at the stove and saw the digital clock blink off - and I heard this long beeeep! from my stove.

When the power goes out, my stove gives off this distinctive beep, and my heart really sank when I heard that.

It was late afternoon, getting darker, snow is pouring down outside, the roads are basically impassable at this point and my apartment was suddenly really quiet - and the realization that I had no power was really sobering.

All my plans went right out the window, I was going to wrap up the blog, edit and then and post it, then kick back and watch Netflix - but the power took out my WiFi so I couldn't use my laptop.

Writer Stephen King at work
I'm pretty good about keeping all my devices charged up, so when the power went out I was still able to use my iPhone to get Web access.

But the thing is I can't really use it to write a blog.

I mean I CAN, but it's really awkward editing text, adding links and cropping and placing photos - the only time I use my iPhone or Kindle to work on my blog is to maybe correct small typos I didn't catch, change the occasional word, or check my traffic statistics.

I do most of my writing on my MacBook Pro at my desk, I'm a pretty decent typist and it's just the way I like to work - I find it helps the discipline of writing to have a place where you write.

Anything you need to write should ideally be within arm's length, thesaurus, dictionary, journals, pens, pads of paper, cat toys etc. so you don't have to get up and break concentration.

Stephen King's excellent book for writers (a must-read whether you're aspiring, amateur or professional) appropriately titled "Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" emphasizes the importance of having an established "writing space" where you can go to work undisturbed.

Now this may sound strange, but I when I sat down to try and write while the full charge on my computer lasted yesterday, the silence was disturbing my concentration.

You know how lots of snow outside has the effect of making it even more quiet? Well it was so quiet in my 2nd floor apartment I just couldn't concentrate, plus I couldn't get online and I was stressed about having no power.

I always listen to music when I write, I like to have a radio I keep on top of my bookshelf about seven feet away on a somewhat low volume with as few commercials as possible - so it's usually classical on WQXR, classical or jazz on Philadelphia's WRTI, or sometimes progressive / independent rock or alternative on Philly's WXPN, depending on my mood and what I'm writing about.

The background noise keeps me company and helps me concentrate - I could've listened to music on my laptop or phone, but that eats up power and since my power was out, I had to save as much of the battery charge as I could for my devices because at the time I had no idea how long the power would be out.

You may have read in my previous blog about the Oscars, my friend Dave from Dunboyne, Ireland told me he'd been without power for three days - so I was genuinely worried yesterday.

For under $15 you should have an Atomic Beam
and some AA batteries on hand...just in case
I kept checking the PSE&G Website to check on when the power outage would be repaired, and the estimates ranged from 11pm last night to 12:15pm today - at one point the estimate was for Saturday.

Fortunately I had some roasted chicken in the fridge, so I sat down and ate that with a salad by the light of my Atomic Beam lantern I got for Christmas.

Now I don't really plug products on this blog, but I have to tell you, this thing worked amazingly.

Honestly, I'd never used it until last night when it was really dark and the candle and small flashlight I had weren't really cutting it.

It takes three AA batteries, which I happened to have, I unscrewed the bottom, put them in and let me tell you, as a former Boy Scout who has camped in all kinds of weather and light conditions using everything from Coleman lanterns, to flashlights to carbide miner's helmet lamps, the light this thing gave off was amazing.

It's only five inches high and three inches in diameter (pictured above), and the casing is made of a dense plastic, but it has two metal handles that fold upwards to become handles and it has no switch.

You simply pull the top open and it lights up - you can pull it a small way out or all the way depending on how much light you want.

The bottom, where you insert the three AA batteries, is magnetic, so you can stick it on a fridge or any metal surface and it will stick firmly, there's also a small hook that unfolds underneath so you can hang it from something.

I'm not ashamed to admit this thing picked up my spirits measurably - and it was practical too.

Like I said I usually don't push products on my blog ( and I certainly don't get paid for doing so), but having been in something of an emergency, this thing worked efficiently and I was glad I had it - I highly recommend picking one up to have at home - check out the Website.

You can get a two-pack of them on Amazon for about $15 bucks or so if you have Amazon Prime - I'm going to buy another to keep in my car - believe me, if it you find yourself in the dark unexpectedly, you'll be glad you have an Atomic Beam lantern (and some AA batteries).

Anyway, I took it over to my easy chair, sat down and read two long chapters of "The 900 Days: The Siege of Stalingrad", historian Harrison Salisbury's dense, exhaustively-researched account of the Siege of the beautiful Russian port city of Stalingrad (now renamed St. Petersburg once again) during World War II.

It was kind of atmospheric reading accounts of the citizens of Stalingrad struggling to survive no power, little (if any) fuel for heat, very little food and almost constant arial and artillery bombardment from the German forces encircling the city during the brutal winter of 1941 - 1942.

But it took my mind off my own circumstances, which seemed like Club Med in comparison to what those poor people endured.

Those who managed to survive anyway, a staggering 3,466,066 Russian soldiers and civilians died during this horrific chapter of World War II.

I'd venture to say that it's impossible to understand the mindset of the Russian character without understanding the Siege of Stalingrad and what happened there - and why.

It's a gripping, but challenging read because the research is unmatched and it names names of those in the Russian military and government who were responsible for the massive bureaucratic failures that led to over a million German and Axis troops being able to invade Russia's western border in the summer of 1941 and eventually mercilessly lay siege to the city of Stalingrad for over two hellish years.

But it also identifies the countless heroes, soldiers and civilians alike, who sacrificed selflessly for the Motherland to try and save their beloved city - many of whom were later executed by Stalin after the war.

The book, published in 1969, was banned by Soviet authorities because of the harsh truths it reveals about the Soviet Union and Stalin's leadership in searing detail, I've been wrestling with this behemoth for months, in part because sometimes it's so intense I have to put it down every now and then and read something else.

Anyway, to wrap up, as I write this, in the blessed comforts of light, heat, WiFi and music, according to PSE&G there are still about 2,295 customers in Mercer County, NJ where I live without power - 42,934 PSE&G customers statewide have no power as of 10:45pm, and that's not even counting those served by JCPL.

That means hundreds of thousands of people are without power in their homes, condos or apartments right now and it's going down to 28 degrees - that's just in New Jersey.

So rather than politics, racism, unchecked use of force by police, America's damaged justice system or films, tonight my thoughts are with those of all races, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds sitting in the dark tonight waiting for their power to come back on.

Both here in America, in states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, or down in Puerto Rico, or across the Atlantic in parts of the U.K., Ireland and Scotland - and those in the city of Stalingrad from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944.

My power finally came back on at around 8:30am this morning, and I genuinely feel blessed for that - because I know and understand that others have waited a lot longer than 16 hours for the lights to come back on.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Bomb Cylone II & The 2018 Oscars

70 mph wind gusts toppled trees in Takoma Park MD.
Here in Hamilton, New Jersey, the Nor'easter that turned into the 2nd "Bomb Cyclone" of 2018 brought really high winds, rain and snow in some parts of the area on Friday, thankfully moved out to sea on Saturday, but not before leaving a fair number of trees, branches and power lines down in its wake.

Sadly, at least six people across the mid-Atlantic region lost their lives as a result of the storm that left millions without power and a lot of flooding along coastal areas, especially Massachusetts. 

Here at the apartment complex where I live and work, the ground was so saturated that the high winds toppled a big tree over on Klockner Road into a power line, leaving a live, sparking wire on the ground that alarmed more than a few residents before PSE&G was able to repair it. 

From a purely weather standpoint, the six people who lost their lives not withstanding, overall, what we experienced here in the eastern U.S. was relatively tame compared to the unprecedented and brutal winter storms that pounded Europe last week.

My friend Dave lives in Dunboyne on the east coast of Ireland, and I was just live-chatting with him on Facebook, he said they had five feet of snow there - eight feet in some parts with the snow drifts. 

He's had no heat in his home for three days, but is lucky to have a fireplace going to keep warm; he said the external temperature is finally "going up" to a balmy 7 degrees Celsius today (up from -3 yesterday).

Even though that combination of cold and snow, the result of an unusual weather pattern that delivered cold weather from Siberia, brought many parts of the U.K. and Ireland to a standstill, fortunately Dave says there've been no reports of any deaths so far in the Dunboyne region. 

A couple stroll across the snowy Irish landscape
But as the BBC reported earlier this morning, there are a number of rural towns and villages parts of Ireland, Scotland and parts of southwestern England that have been relatively cut off.  

While many people are busy digging out of the deep freeze that dumped snow, ice and freezing rain across the British isles and European continent last week, here in the States it's Oscar Sunday - so hopefully the annual telecast broadcast around the world will offer some measure of distraction for people who've been holed up because of the weather.

So let's get to it, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on the nominees for tonight's broadcast of the 90th Academy Awards.

Clearly, the #MeToo movement and the unprecedented fallout from the still-unfolding Harvey Weinstein scandal and the exposure of rampant sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood is the single topic that's going to define these awards.

In the same way that #OscarsSoWhite, a purely organic social media campaign that propelled the glaring lack of racial and ethnic diversity both in front and behind the camera in the film industry into a mainstream media issue that dominated the 2015 and 2016 Oscars, the issue of gender inequity and inappropriate and sometimes criminal sexual behavior has dominated Hollywood in 2017.

2nd year host Jimmy Kimmel is going to have to walk a fine line in the tone he takes this evening to find a balance between finding ways to express the industry-skewing humor that is an expected ( and I believe necessary) part of the Academy Awards, and recognizing the seriousness of the issues that drive the #MeToo movement.

That said, ladies first - let's start with the Best Actress category.

Francis McDormand confronts a police officer
in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Of the five nominees for Lead Actress, my sense is that this is Francis McDormand's year for her standout performance as Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

McDormand plays a no-nonsense mother who sells her ex-husband's tractor trailer in order to pay for messages to be placed on three large billboards in a field next to a stretch of road outside of the small town.

The messages level harsh accusations that  accuse the local police chief Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, of failing to find the person who raped and killed her daughter then burned her body - accusations which set off a cascading series of events that cause conflict within her family, and amongst the town's residents.

I saw four of the Lead Actress performances from the five films from which the nominees were taken, the above-mentioned Three Billboards, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird  - I didn't get a chance to see Meryl Streep in the The Post.   

There's no question that Hawkins turns in a brilliant performance as a deaf cleaning woman who falls in love with a strange humanoid creature that lives underwater in director Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water.

Her ability to communicate a range of intense emotions without physically speaking is amazing, and was just one of the aspects that makes the movie such a magical experience.

Margot Robbie as skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya
While I felt Margot Robbie was really strong as Harley Quinn in the 2016 Warner Brothers anti-superhero blockbuster Suicide Squad, she really takes her acting ability up to the next level in her characterization of ice skater Tonya Harding in the dark comedy I, Tonya. 

The film explores Harding's tough upbringing and difficult relationship with her emotionally abusive and domineering mother.

That role is brilliantly-played by Allison Janney, more on that in a moment. 

I, Tonya also dramatizes Harding's troubled personal life and the infamous incident in 1994 when her abusive ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hatched a bizarre scheme to break the leg of Harding's skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.

Relative newcomer Saoirse (pronounced like Sayer-shuh) Ronan, was really impressive and composed in the beautifully-filmed 2015 romantic drama Brooklyn. 

And she turns in a really strong performance as a teenager negotiating a desire to escape the confines of her Catholic high school teen angst, as well as the suburban community of Sacramento, California where her family lives, to attend college in New York in director / writer Greta Gerwig's semi-autobiographical Lady Bird.   

Best Actress nominees Saoirse Ronan & Meryl Streep
Without having seen Streep in The Post, we all know she's a master actor who always delivers - the Summit, New Jersey-raised performer has earned a staggering 21 Oscar nominations, and won three, but she's so talented that she's basically nominated every year.

In my view the Academy voters, particularly this year, are going to be particularly attuned to recognizing the work of other female performers, not just for the films they've been nominated for this year, but for their overall body of work.

That said I think Frances McDormand turned in the strongest, most gripping on-screen performance of the four that I saw.

When you couple the brilliant original script by director Martin McDonagh, and what I felt was the strongest overall ensemble of actors - my sense is that McDormand deserves to walk home with the Oscar for Lead Actress this year for Three Billboards.

Saoirse Ronan is really solid in Lady Bird, but she's still a young actress who's learning, and her performance just doesn't display the same range and depth as that of the other Best Actress nominees this year. 

But this 23-year-old Irish performer "has it", and she's destined for great things, this is Ronan's third Oscar nomination, which is obviously a huge honor both professionally and creatively and an indication of just how talented she is - her time will no doubt come. 

After the performances Harding and Hawkins turned in, they will have their chances too. 

McDormand as the pregnant sheriff in Fargo
But in my humble opinion, they just didn't match McDormand's on-screen performance this year, nor can they (yet) match McDormand's overall body of work. 

Including her iconic role in the 1996 Cohen brothers film Fargo (for which she won the Best Actress Oscar) and amazing supporting roles in excellent films like 1988's Mississippi Burning and 2005's North Country. 

McDormand was also amazing in the 2014 HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, for which she won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress, and she also won a Tony for her work on Broadway for her work in the 1988 revival of the classic Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire 

As far as Best Supporting Actress, I was really impressed with the work of Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird and singer Mary J. Blige in the highly-underrated Mudbound.

Blige was surprisingly good in this movie considering she doesn't have a ton of acting experience to her credit - something that reflects positively on director Dee Rees' directing skills.

Mudbound was a film which I felt warranted Best Picture and Best Director nominations; more on that in a moment.

While I haven't had the chance to see Lesley Manville's performance in Phantom Thread, I personally don't think any of the Best Supporting Actress performances I saw this year were as intense as Allison Janney as Tonya Harding's mother in I, Tonya.

Allison Janney as Tonya Hardin's mother in I, Tonya
You literally cannot take your eyes off her whenever she's onscreen.

And if you haven't seen her sitting there in her tacky fur coat with a breathing tube in her nose and a parrot on her shoulder staring into the camera - all I can say is that it's intense and menacing. 

You simply have to see it.

My sense is that Allison Janney deserves this Oscar, not just because of her role in I, Tonya but also for her overall body of work.

I think her brilliant television role as White House press secretary and later chief of staff C.J. Craig on NBC's The West Wing (which is beloved by a lot of Hollywood insiders) also plays to her advantage this year with the dark phenomenon of Trump's chaotic presidency looming over the awards.
Now I'm not going to dive too deep into the Best Actor category because I'm both torn and biased.

Three of the nominees, Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq., Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread, and Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour - are among my favorite actors of all time.

And let me just say again that I think Washington, who literally tore the screen apart in the 2016 screen adaptation of the August Wilson play Fences, losing the Best Actor award to Casey Affleck last year was a complete travesty - and stands as the biggest Oscar blunder since (thanks to Harvey Weinstein) Gwyneth Paltrow winning Best Actress at the1988 Academy Awards for Shakespeare In Love over the Australian-born Cate Blanchett's brilliant performance as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth.   

Anyway, as much as I like and respect Denzel Washington and Daniel Day-Lewis (who I don't believe for a second is retiring from acting), my sense is that this is Gary Oldman's year to take home the statue.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour
His performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, is, quite simply, transformative.

Even without having had the benefit of seeing Roman J. Israel, Esq. or Phantom Thread (neither of which got wide theatrical release or marketing), based on talent and body of work alone, the Best Actor award could go to Washington or Day-Lewis - but both of them have already won multiple Oscars before, and likely will again. 

My sense is that the conventional wisdom is that Oldman deserves to be recognized for his enormous body of film work, particularly his roles in Sid and Nancy, The Professional, The Fifth Element, The Dark Knight trilogy and in the complex 2011 spy drama Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy - which I personally consider one of THE best film performances by an actor in film history.

Newcomers Timothy Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) were both really good in films that generated a lot of critical buzz, and like Saoirse Ronan, both guys have big futures ahead of them when they develop larger bodies of work and gain more experience. 

But their on-screen work simply wasn't on the same level as Oldman's in Darkest Hour, and in my view he takes home the gold tonight.

As for Best Supporting Actor, this is a category that's going to be one of the closest races to watch, and it's a tricky one to try and pick. 

All five of the nominees, Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards, the wonderful Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water and the brilliant Christopher Plummer for All the Money In the World, are amazing actors with impressive bodies of work.  

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri
Unfortunately I didn't get to see The Florida Project, or All the Money in the World directed by Ridley Scott - I'll probably catch those on Netflix or cable.

From the performances I did see it's literally a toss up between Harrelson, Rockwell and Jenkins as to who wins - all three are that good.

But if I had to pick one, I'd say Sam Rockwell is the one who most impressed me, particularly as part of what I considered to be the best overall ensemble in Three Billboards.

His on-screen transition from an ignorant booze-swilling racist to a humbled cop who puts himself on the line to find the main character's daughter's killer is really next level stuff.

But The Shape of Water had what I consider to be the next best ensemble (although the cast of Mudbound was arguably just as good) and Academy voters may want to recognize Richard Jenkins, who has excelled in understated  roles in so many quality projects for both film and television - and is also known as genuinely nice person.

Best Director is going to be a tough category to pick as well.

Get Out has received quite a lot of buzz for writer / director Jordan Peele,  and it's a really good film. 

But I think it's more likely that he's going to be recognized for Best Original Screenplay, because Get Out is certainly one of the most original scripts nominated in recent years.

Greta Gerwig directing Timothy Chalamet and
Saoirse Ronan on the set of Lady Bird
Given the impact of the #MeToo movement, Greta Gerwig's nomination was timely, and I do think Lady Bird was very well directed - it's got some beautiful moments.

But there was what I felt to be a small story issue in terms of a subplot that was kind of left dangling awkwardly without sufficient explanation towards the end of the film. 

It may have been an editing issue, but it seemed to be more of a screenplay issue and since Gerwig wrote the screenplay, that was her responsibility as a director.

Again, I felt strongly that Mudbound, directed by female African-American director Dee Rees, was far superior to Lady Bird in terms of the overall depth and quality of story, cinematography, scope, subject matter and all around acting performances.  

But Mudbound dealt with some delicate issues involving both racism and white supremacy, so it's possible that the majority of the Academy voters (who are overwhelmingly older white men) simply didn't see it, or felt uncomfortable with the subject matter of the story - which includes interracial romance in the 1940's and torture by members of the KKK. 

Perhaps the Academy just felt more "comfortable" with a teenager's coming of age story set in 2003 than a period piece set in the 1940's that deals with two families, one white, one black, confronting racism in the Deep South.

Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) and Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) are certainly both brilliant directors with recognized bodies of Oscar-level work on their resumes.

Guillermo del Toro (2nd from right) on the set
of The Shape of Water 
But my money is on Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water.

As my sister pointed out to me after we saw the film, Academy voters are going to have a natural soft-spot for the love of classic Hollywood films and passion for theatrical cinema that are referenced in the film.  

It's a component they can identify with.

And given del Toro's unique style and body of interesting work, odds are strong that he ends up taking the trophy home tonight.

But don't count Nolan out for a Best Director nod.

He put his heart and soul into Dunkirk, an amazingly-filmed account of the infamous evacuation of hundreds of thousands of stranded British, French and Canadian soldiers from the French coast during World War II.

The film itself is "bigger" than the individual actors, and there's not a lot of dialog - in fact there are long stretches where no one says anything, but it doesn't take anything away from the film.

But actor Mark Rylance in particular, gives a really nuanced performance as a civilian boat-owner who sets off across the English Chanel with his son and another young boy to help rescue soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk.

I was fortunate enough to see him on Broadway last month in the play Farinelli and the King, and he is a fantastic actor.

British soldiers awaiting evacuation on the beach
in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk
And there are really fine performances from Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy as well - the latter two who worked with Nolan before in the final installment of The Dark Knight trilogy.

I'm going with del Toro, but Dunkirk was absolutely masterfully directed and don't be surprised if Nolan's name is called.

Well this blog entry is long enough, and I've got some stuff to do before I get ready to head off to an Oscar viewing party.

Since I've clearly opined on this year's nominated films, and having seen all the nominated films except for Phantom Thread and The Post, my view is that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is this year's Best Picture.

The central theme, a mother's desire for justice for daughter's rape and murder, and a really strong female lead performance make it really timely in light of the #MeToo movement.

But after careful consideration, I really do feel it was the best film of 2017 in a year with some really impressive pictures.

But again, you never know.

Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins in The Shape
of Water 
The Oscars always has surprises in store, and while conventional wisdom says that the Best Director usually goes hand-in hand with Best Picture, that's not always true - don't count Steven Spielberg out when he's nominated for anything (Best Picture for The Post).

But as much as I liked Three Billboards, my odds-on favorite for Best Director is still Guillermo del Toro.

So I think The Shape of Water could be the "film of the night".

Whoever wins tonight, I don't think I'll be disappointed because the work of all the nominees was so good - but it's the Oscars, it's live and filled with opinionated people who have to have big egos to be successful in the industry they work in - so there's certain to be some unscripted drama.

And after a week of tough winter weather, and even more unmitigated chaos from the White House, a few hours of drama, Hollywood gossip and recognizing the achievements of the film industry could be just what the doctor ordered.

After all, nothing offers a few hours of escape quite like a good movie, or a star-studded awards ceremony where those films, and the people who make them, get a few precious moments to stand in the spotlight.

Frankly I'll be pleased if the producers of this year's Oscars can manage to get the Best Picture announcement right this year, so that brief moment isn't muddled by controversy because of poor preparation.

As we all saw after the debacle at the end of the 2017 Academy Awards, unlike films, you only get one take at the Oscars. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Operation Keep Safe - More ICE Theater

Police escort 23-YO Juan Vega to an ICE facility in
Los Angeles during sweeps in January
[Photo - Getty]  
As a former resident of Los Angeles, I still keep in touch with local news impacting California by listening to public radio station KCRW online during the week.

On Wednesday morning I heard a KCRW news report that agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement once again engaged in targeted sweeps of undocumented immigrants.

This time in parts of Northern California including Oakland, San Francisco and Napa Valley.

Just over a month ago agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 21 immigrants in predawn sweeps targeting 98 different 7-Eleven stores in the LA area in southern California.

In a blog posted back on Friday January 19th, I called those raids "Anti-immigration Theater" - not just because it was more show than actual substantive policy.

But also because of the absurdity of federal agents expending resources and man hours rounding up a handful of the millions of immigrants who are working here in the U.S. as you read these words.

The latests reports I've read online were that approximately 232 people had been arrested and detained between Sunday and Wednesday.

The KCRW radio report on Wednesday said that when some people arrived for work early Tuesday morning, ICE agents were actually inside their place of employment and quickly began asking those they suspected of being undocumented to produce identification papers.

Before, presumably, being hauled off to one of the increasingly-filled detention facilities around the U.S. where undocumented detainees are currently being held before either being deported, or facing a hearing in court to determine their immigration status.

MTC-run Willacy County Correctional Facility in Texas
As Madison Pauly reported in an article for Mother Jones last February, within the first weeks of assuming office in January, 2017, top immigration policy advisers from the Trump administration were already instructing top officials from the Department of Homeland Security to instruct ICE to drastically increase the number of undocumented detainees that it keeps incarcerated on a daily basis to 80,000.

Sadly, some of those detainees were and are being held in privately owned for-profit detention facilities like the Willacy County Correctional Facility outside Raymondville, Texas (pictured above).

Built in 2006 by the troubled Management and Training Corporation, the facility basically consisted of a series of large kevlar tents which housed 200 inmates each - as you can see from the photo above there are no windows to let in natural light.

Inside there are no walls to separate bathroom facilities including showers and toilets, and the lights remained on for 24 hours a day - try and imagine living with 200 people like that for even a week.

According to a 2017 PRI article by Reynaldo Leanos, allegations at Willacy included lack of medical treatment, widespread sexual abuse and unsanitary living conditions including vermin infestation - those are allegations that have been leveled at other facilities run by MTC.

Check out George Lavender's 2014 In These Times article about the East Mississippi Correctional Facility run by MTC - take a look at some of the photos of the conditions inmates were living in.

MTC's Willacy County Correctional Facility was one of the largest immigration detention centers in the U.S. at one point, and not surprisingly a riot broke out in February 2015 after years of complaints about the management of the facility and the conduct of the personnel and their treatment of the detainees scheduled to be deported.

It was closed after a fire set during the riots destroyed most of it, but remarkably officials are trying to reopen it.

Now according to Madison Pauly's Mother Jones article referenced above, in November, 2016, when Trump lost the popular vote but won the presidential election with the aid of a massive Republican voter suppression effort and interference by the Russian government:
A flooded cell in East Mississippi Correctional
Facility run by MTC - described as "barbaric"

"a whopping 65 percent of ICE detainees were held in facilities run by private prison companies, which typically earn a fee per detainee per night and whose business model depends upon minimizing costs to return profits to shareholders. 

Since Trump's election, private prison stocks have soared, and two new, for-profit detention centers are opening in Georgia and Texas."  

When you take these ICE raids in California into consideration, along with the aggressive push by the Department of Justice (under the direction of this White House) to drastically ramp up taxpayer funds going to the for-profit prison industry, in my view it is disturbing evidence that Trump and his equally-xenophobic Attorney General Jeff Sessions are determined to turn the home of the Statue of Liberty into some kind of authoritarian landscape.

It's kind of an obscene marriage between the divisive right-wing ideology of the Trump administration, which vilifies and scapegoats non-white people, and the kind of rampant vampire capitalism that the current Republican Party has pimped itself out to - and worships like a deity.

(Case in point: Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement on Tuesday that the Senate will pursue passage of a "banking reform bill" rather than tackling the gun reform legislation that a majority of Americans are now demanding in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.)

The result is that the convergence of rigid ideology and unchecked greed now serves as some kind of ideological club (wielded by ICE) for right-leaning conservatives to attack states like California, which have rejected the Trump agenda in favor of more moderate and inclusive policies.

As Hamed Aleaziz reported in an article for early Wednesday morning, the most recent raids, deemed Operation Keep Safe, have heightened tensions between ICE and local California municipalities like Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles - where local leaders have pledged to protect the status of their communities as "sanctuary cities" so that members of the immigrant community are not afraid to report crimes to the police, or call emergency services.

ICE agents conduct a raid at a home in Georgia
The High-Chair President's response is the targeted deployment of federal agents using Gestapo-like tactics to round people up.

And in effect, place them into camps.

Of course, ICE painting these most recent raids with an intentionally melodramatic description like "Operation Keep Safe", helps to frame these actions in a context aligned with the Trump administration's ceaseless demonizing of undocumented immigrants.

An extension of Trump's attempts to project his own bigotry onto those he deems as some kind of monolithic dark-skinned menace.

It's intended to play to Trump's hyper-conservative base of support, many of whom are easily swayed to project their personal economic insecurities onto "others"

And use anti-immigrant hysteria to voice their frustration with an economic recovery that's further enriched the wealthiest 1%, but left average Americans stifled by stagnant wages on the sidelines watching progress and opportunity pass them by.

As Jenna Lyons and Hamed Aleaziz reported in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle earlier today, one of those people swept up in "Operation Keep Safe" was 55-year-old Jesus Manzo Ceja.

Jesus Manzo Ceja's daughter Brenda and wife 
Guadalupe at their home in Napa Valley, CA  
An undocumented immigrant who came to California 30 years ago with his family, Ceja walked outside of his home early Wednesday morning to move his truck and discovered ICE agents outside lying in wait with a warrant for his arrest.

While ICE agents (supposedly) cannot force their way into someone's home to detain someone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant, nothing prevents them from simply waiting outside of someone's place of work, home or a court house.

According to the Chronicle, Ceja's 27-year-old daughter Brenda (pictured above), a U.S. citizen by birth, told reporters, "When they took my dad, they asked for my mom, but she was too scared to come out of the house."

The man who worked construction jobs to provide for his family and drove his wife and 15-year-old son to their weekly physician's appointments is now in custody in a facility in Stockton, CA awaiting deportation back to Mexico.

Ostensibly, he was arrested for having spent three weeks in jail for a DUI 14 years ago and also having been stopped for driving without a license.

But Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions have made it abundantly clear why 232 different people were arrested over a four day period in Northern California between Sunday and Wednesday.

Granted, some were people with criminal records, but many, like Jesus Manzo Ceja were simply people with non-violent administrative offenses on their record - is deporting them really keeping Americans safe?

People caught up in a theater of extremist anti-immigrant ideology - arrested for being who they are in a nation of immigrants.