Category Archives: police state

Obama on Black Crime

It is absolutely true that the murder rate is way out of whack in the African-American community compared to the general population and both the victims and the perpetrators are black. ~ Barack Obama, 7/14/2016

Escape from New York

Escape from New York is a longtime personal favorite and, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies ever. I’m both amazed and gratified by how durable the editorial remains.

For example: 

  1. The police state is indistinguishable from the military.
  2. The police kill with impunity.
  3. The president is a narcissistic figurehead who is relying on a pre-recorded speech on which world peace presumably depends.
  4. The hero is ex-military and now a convicted felon and is the person best suited to infiltrate a prison and mete out the brutality necessary to fulfill the rescue.
  5. The cops have all the best weapons. Everyone assumes automatically that Snake’s possession of firearms means that he’s working for the government.
  6. Snake is carrying out the rescue mission not voluntarily, but because his life is being threatened.  
  7. The hierarchy of violent goons in the prison is indistinguishable from the hierarchy of violent goons guarding the prison. 

And perhaps most importantly, when Snake asks the president how he feels about all the individuals who gave their lives to rescue his, he mutters some half-hearted bullshit about how the “nation appreciates their sacrifice”.

Absolutely essential.

Straight Outta Compton

Stories of musical pop culture icons are being adapted for the screen with increasing frequency in recent years. Most fail in one way or another, but Straight Outta Compton is one that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in the story of one of hip-hop’s most controversial and influential groups. SoC tells the story of the rise of seminal gangsta rap group NWA as well as the ascent of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre as solo artists. Thematically, the film covers a lot of ground. It’s a story of music industry glory, but it’s another vivid reminder of the difficulty in maintaining integrity within the when the money starts rolling. More broadly, it confronts us with the challenges of urban black families faced with the prevalence of inner city crime and gang culture. SoC is also an important film for this political moment since free speech and police brutality are themes that are deeply embedded into the fabric of the story. 

The film opens with a drug deal between Eazy-E (aka Eric Wright) and some random gang bangers which escalates very quickly. Right away, the film is taking us into the Compton underworld of the mid-80’s. Everyone is packing heat, drug dealing is one of the few engines of economic mobility that’s easily attainable, every negotiation carries an implicit death threat, and “bitch” and “nigga” are freely deployed throughout normal conversation. It wasn’t called gangsta rap for nothing. The deal devolves into threats, but everyone scrambles for safety when the armored military-style battering ram vehicle rounds the corner, plows right through the front door and cops swarm the house. Welcome to Compton, bitches.

When we’re introduced to a young Dr. Dre (aka Andre Young), his Roy Ayers induced blissed out reverie is violently interrupted by his irate single mother. She castigates him for failing to attend a job interview while simultaneously reminding him how hard she worked to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Dre isn’t having a word of it, and packs his bags so he can pursue his music career free of persistent maternal nagging. The film is giving us a sense of the burden black single mothers carry imparting the importance of developing personal responsibility and meaningful job skills in the absence of strong, paternal role models.  

We meet a young Ice Cube (aka O’Shea Jackson) penning rhymes and staring out the school bus window. Middle-class white teenagers idle away to pop music in fancy cars and clothes while he awaits being shipped back to the dreary impoverishment of Compton. The bus ride home is interrupted by armed gangsters whose sole intention is to intimidate the kids who taunted them during the route. Once again, we’re reminded that gangsters were a common phenomenon in South Central LA, and the thug life offered a sense of purpose, belonging and upward mobility for young blacks who faced a seemingly hopeless existence short on positive parental figures or examples. 

Upon his arrival home, he is treated to the prodigious turntable skills of Dre who had recently taken up residence on his couch. With the knockout combination of Dre’s instincts for production and Cube’s pugilistic street poetry, the two friends set their sights on carving out a new sound in rap that reflected the gritty reality of life in Compton. The bonds of friendship which created a new hip-hop dynasty were sealed.  

One of the great strengths of the film is the absence of phony PC propriety and artificial attempts at racial correctness. The unvarnished portrait of urban black speech and gender relations all by itself is a glorious kick in the teeth to social justice warriors who are constantly bitching about “harmful representations in the media of Marginalized Group (fill in the blank)”. Admittedly, the portraits are not the most flattering towards this particular segment of the African-American population, but when contrasted with the modern Hollywood PC orthodoxy which mandates that blacks always be portrayed in a positive light, this film feels like it’s making an above average attempt at honesty instead of trying to pander to phony leftist piety. In an early scene where Dre and Cube are given a slot to perform at a popular nightclub, the owner sternly reminds the young MCs that he wants the people focused on “pussy, not pistols”.  They ignore his admonitions and perform the track to overwhelming enthusiasm.  The track contained many of the lyrical themes which became commonplace within the gangsta rap genre: gritty, profanity laced realism, unrepentant portraits of guns and criminal activity, and raunchy sex.  

In many ways, the film is the story of Eazy- E’s role in creating NWA’s success. Emboldened by the positive reception to their track, Dre and Cube convince Eazy-E to bankroll their first recorded effort. When the crew they hire unceremoniously quit, Dre persuades E to sing the lead vocal. Here, the film gives an interesting insight into Dre’s gift for producing as well as E’s unsteady flow at this early stage in their career.  The result of this effort was “Boyz In Da Hood” and this initial success laid the groundwork for NWA.  

A big theme in the film is the challenge of maintaining integrity, professionalism and independence in the music industry. Especially when the money, drugs and women are readily accessible and the behavior and habits they acquired in the streets of Compton informed their business interactions as adults. The two dubious business partnerships between Eazy-E, Jerry Heller, Suge Knight and Dre drove a lot of the interpersonal drama between the characters.  Heller discovers E when “Boyz In Da Hood” was climbing the charts and helped steer the Ruthless crew to global success, but the absence of transparency in the contracts eventually drives a wedge between the friends. It’s insinuated that Heller took advantage of NWA, but it’s not entirely clear that he was completely unscrupulous, either.  Not only does Heller exhibit courage and loyalty throughout NWA’s ascent, but he talks E down from exacting vengeance on Suge Knight after a business meeting turns violent.  Suge Knight, on the other hand, is portrayed as a sociopathic thug with few scruples, a hot temper and a propensity towards arbitrary violence.  Clearly, the relationship between him and Dre wasn’t completely fruitless since Dre’s career went stratospheric during the Death Row era, but it brought with it a great deal of dysfunction and more than a few hangers on.

The relationship towards law enforcement plays prominently throughout the film and gives it an urgency that speaks directly to currently escalating tensions between police and the black community.  The film portrays the incident which inspired “Fuck Tha Police”, and not only is it an example of the indignities to which inner city blacks are routinely subjected, it brings the vitriol of the song to life even more vividly.  While recording Straight Outta Compton in upscale Torrance, California, the members of NWA were minding their own business outside the studio when cops descended on the scene and demanded that each of the members drop face down on to the sidewalk. Heller arrives shortly thereafter, demands that they be released and chastises the officers for assuming criminal intent based on their appearance. Heller instructs the band members to rise, but the cops refuse to allow them rise until they give the instruction. They forced the men to eat concrete and their dignity for several minutes before issuing a command to stand up.  Heller indignantly reminds the cops they’re rap artists, but the black police chief responds with a disparaging and contemptuous retort that “rap isn’t art” and tells them never to be seen in Torrance again.

NWA get their sweet revenge when the song explodes in popularity, but it draws the attention of the FBI while they’re on their first tour. Prior to their now infamous concert in Detroit, the police threaten to arrest NWA if they perform “Fuck Tha Police” during the show. Heller is rattled and advises that they abstain from performing the song to avoid any entanglements with the federal government, but NWA aren’t willing to back down on free speech grounds.  In one of the film’s finest scenes, the band members pause after finishing a song and give one another a knowing look.  The crowd is roaring with applause while Cube tells the audience about how they were threatened and the cops stationed throughout the venue grimace in anticipation of their defiance. They milk the drama of the moment just right, and when Cube instructs the crowd to hoist their middle fingers aloft and finally cues the song with, “Yo, Dre. I got something to say”, it’s positively explosive. The crowd goes mental, but shots are fired and mayhem ensues ending in the apprehension of the members of the group.

When it comes to the message of NWA and the success of the gangsta rap phenomenon, I’m divided. As a full throated advocate for free speech and free markets, I believe that NWA were fully within their rights to write and rap about whatever they damn well pleased and that the government had no business attempting to censor or silence them.  On the other hand, I’m sympathetic to cultural and religious conservatives (and even secular progressives) who find the lyrics distasteful and don’t want their children exposed to that lifestyle. I can appreciate that a parent who is attempting to impart an appreciation for monogamy, education, conventional employment and a respect for the law might feel a bit of frustration towards the success of gangsta rap. I’m also sympathetic to black community leaders and parents who also may be galled by their success because their lifestyles and message run counter to their efforts to turn their own communities around. Regardless, NWA’s message burns with intensity and relevance mostly because they were the first and arguably the best at this particular style of hip-hop. Like every innovator, scores of imitators have sprung up in their wake, but they’ll never match the originality of the pioneers themselves.

Straight Outta Compton is ultimately a story of five African-American men who achieved success by simply raising their voices and never backing down.  But like many other stories of its kind, the success came with a price.  Eazy-E’s fall from relevance, financial woes and his untimely death from AIDS was just one of the consequences of a man who was arguably ill prepared to deal with either the temptations all around him or the responsibility he took upon himself.  Though neither story was a focus of the film, the death of Tupac Shakur and the imprisonment of Suge Knight also serve as a reminder that the gangster lifestyle eventually catches up with you.  Both Dr. Dre and Ice Cube may have had the talent and maturity to both persevere and thrive, but neither of them was without flaw in their interpersonal or business dealings. There are articles complaining about the ways the film glossed over some of the ugly and inconvenient truths, but I doubt there’s a biopic out there that gets everything completely right. The film makes it sufficiently clear that none of these men were saints.  If you are someone who feels strongly that the omission of certain facts supersedes and delegitimizes the broader story the film is telling, then you should probably skip the film.

The filmmakers clearly wanted to connect the message and story of NWA to the current tensions over race and police brutality.  The Rodney King beating and and the riots which erupted in the wake of the trial verdict were weaved into the film as a vivid reminder that the Ferguson and Baltimore incidents are not new.  While many will likely shoehorn the narrative of the film into the now omnipresent and shopworn narrative of intractable, systemic racism embedded in the American psyche and institutions, the film very subtly reveals the true origins of these problems for anyone who’s actually paying attention. Like many other urban black neighborhoods, crime rates in Compton outpace the national averages. Single motherhood rates are disproportionate to other ethnic populations. Taken together, you’re going to have a community which naturally requires more aggressive policing. The police are certainly not above reproach or criticism, but the persistent effort to paint every instance of police brutality and harassment as evidence of “systemic racism” serves no one.

The performances from all the young leads are first rate and the soundtrack is filled with nuggets of classic funk, R&B, 80’s pop and hip-hop. This is a film that captures the voices of rage, defiance and alienation which changed the course of hip-hop and reverberate to this day. Like NWA themselves, the film is brash and unapologetic. Highly recommended. 

The Moral Decrepitude of Vox’ Galactic Republic

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In a recent Mischiefs of Faction piece, Jonathan Ladd argues that the Galactic Republic’s fatal flaw was that it ceded its police powers to the Jedi.  As is often the case for those who espouse liberal views, he rationalizes this argument by saying that they were a “autonomous religious cult” and that military or police personnel who aren’t sufficiently subordinate to the state will inevitably create problems.

Balderdash.  On every front.

As liberals are often wont to do, Mr. Ladd argues the counterfactual in favor of his apparent bias towards those who hold religious beliefs.

To Mr. Ladd’s great credit however, he’s refreshingly honest about the core principle at the center of state power as well as his clearly stated conviction that this principle is essential to the function of a healthy state.

All governments need a monopoly on the use of force. A sign of an unstable republic is when the military and police are not subordinate to civilian political institutions.

I submit to you that not only did this hasten the ascent of the Empire, this is precisely the problem with all state power and that the Jedi were exactly the right people to ensure peace and stability.

The Jedi certainly carried an aura of mysticism and those who mastered the Force were able to wield supernatural powers, but the Jedi code of morality was spelled out very plainly in Yoda’s lesson to Luke on Dagobah.

Yoda: Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

Luke: Vader… Is the dark side stronger?

Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?

Yoda: You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.

In short, the Jedi code was not veiled in impenetrable religious babble.  This code of conduct was not only completely libertarian and fully in accord with the non-aggression axiom, but it lent itself to the possibility of a police force truly dedicated to the preservation of life and property.

Mr. Ladd groused about their autonomous organizational structure, but from this realization we can assume that they preserved independence due to the fact that they received voluntary compensation for their services just as easily as we can assume they were wards of the state.  It was the Jedi code of morality which separated them from the Imperial Stormtrooper goon squad and clone army who only lived to carry out the bidding of whoever was in charge.

The problem was not anything inherent in Jedi teachings or mysticism or their apparent autonomy; it was the abandonment of Jedi principles that was the problem.  Once Palpatine had gained full control of the apparatus of power, there was nothing to stand in his way from exerting violent totalitarian rule.

Using the example of the first French Republic, Mr. Ladd even makes a pathetic attempt at misdirection which ends up exposing the moral void inherent in his argument.  By his reasoning, the only thing wrong with this picture is insubordination; not a group of thugs pointing guns at you and your family and looting you of your belongings.

Rather than relying on the government in Paris for their pay, French armies were paid from resources looted or taxed from territories they conquered.

As recent events attest, a state monopoly on the usage of force ensures neither moral outcomes or greater accountability. The Jedi were the least of the problems faced by the Republic. Some more valid questions would be how was the construction of the Death Star sold to the public and how did a military program of that scale completely elude the press?  That seems like a more glaring failure of democracy than than anything the Jedi ever did.

In short, it’s another sad rehash of liberal talking points and bias in what one presumes is an attempt to be edgy and contrarian.

It says far more about liberal ambitions and their apparent willingness to accord total legitimacy to their favorite autonomous religious cult: The State.

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Selma

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Here are the million dollar questions.

If you criticize this film as a work of art, what are the odds you’ll be branded a RACIST?

If you question the premise that the acquisition of voting rights has resulted in greater self-determination for the black community, what are the odds you’ll be branded RACIST?

Survey says….100% CERTAINTY!

Though it may invite this kind of condemnation and censure from the online masses, I’m going to do both of these things.

By and large, it’s a decent film. It’s certainly not without flaws and just like King and his legacy, the themes and ideas at its core deserve closer scrutiny.

What’s good about it is its unflinching portrayal of the acts of violence and intrusiveness carried out by agents of the State as well as the manipulative and racist attitudes of who wield state power. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t make libertarians out of everyone who watches it.

I also think that it buckles from the weight of the subject matter. It suffers from a certain turgidity. It’s a film so certain of the moral righteousness of King’s insistence on acquiring of political power that it feels like a psychological truncheon.  It has a faint air of propaganda.

The film is focused on King’s three month campaign to secure voting rights for blacks culminating in the signing of 1965 Civil Rights Act. It is unambiguously black and white in its portrayal of the events and individuals involved. Up until the hamfisted Hymn to the Glory of Government ending, the various government agents and politicians are portrayed in a relentlessly negative light.

Aside from the controversy over the portrayal of the negotiations between Johnson and King, these aspects of the film seem accurate.

The film sets the tone in the first two scenes.  Oprah Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper dutifully reciting American civics questions to a cruel bureaucrat. He is solidly intent on making life as difficult as possible for her while she attempts to register to vote.  The following scene portrays a group of girls enjoying one another’s company at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama until their lives are tragically and abruptly cut short by a violent explosion.

From there, events are demarcated by log entries made by FBI spies who are monitoring events and phone calls.  The film is letting us know that the roots of the surveillance state are deep.

The scenes of King’s private negotiations with Johnson portray him as a callous and calculating politician. He’s more concerned with his agenda than the war zone that’s happening right under his nose.

Martin Luther King Jr.: We need your involvement here, Mr. President. We deserve your help as citizens of this country. Citizens under attack.

President Lyndon B. Johnson: Now, you listen to me. You listen to me. You’re an activist. I’m a politician. You got one big issue. I got a hundred and one.

One could argue that little has changed.

Hoover exhibits the kind of black hearted malevolence which seems befitting of his legacy.

J. Edgar Hoover: Mister President, you know we can shut men with power down, permanently and unequivocally.

The scenes of police brutality are harrowing and realistic.

On the flipside, the film seems doggedly determined to present King as a paragon of unambiguous virtue, restraint and composure. No matter how much brutality the movement faces, King makes a consistent appeal for non-violent resistance. When tensions are frayed, King exhibits a paternalistic gravitas which immediately calms all overheated emotions.

The film makes an attempt to present the flaws in King by hinting at allegations of infidelity, but they are largely are glossed over.

Despite the soaring speeches and appeals to democracy, it feels leaden.

The grand contradiction that’s seemingly overlooked is that his appeal to non-violence was completely at odds with his desire to acquire political power. Blacks acquired the political power he sought. But has this elevated the ranks of the black population in the way he hoped?

On the one hand, the terrorism and violence is less overt and severe than it was in that period.

On the other, one wonders whether the right to vote has enhanced black self-determination or thwarted it.

As events in Ferguson and Baltimore attest, having access to the vote did not forestall these crackdowns.  In fact, the vote has arguably created and exacerbated the conditions which allowed for these incidents.  Black politicians lent their support to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which contributed directly to the militarization of the police, expansion of the prison complex and the swelling of the ranks of the police force.  Public subsidies for housing and government initiatives have only entrenched racial segregation and economic stagnation.

The vote hasn’t prevented many other manifestations of state repression of the black community either.

Government police brutality against blacks remains prevalentIncarceration rates remain very high.  Compulsory public schooling has simply created a bridge to the state prison industrial complex.  For black youth, labor force participation is down and unemployment rates are up.

Despite the grand intentions of the Great Society to elevate the ranks of the impoverished, one wonders whether government welfare has created upward economic mobility for blacks or kept them mired in poverty.

King openly equates voting with self-determination, but says nothing about economic self-determination. Have blacks achieved greater economic self-determination as a consequence of the ’65 Act or in spite of it?

Unfortunately, the grand failure of this film is that it seems only to buttress the current narrative around racism. In other words, that there’s no distinction to be made between state violence, arbitrary acts of unprovoked violence by private citizens or racist attitudes and speech. By today’s logic, the latter is the sole cause for historical and current acts of violence regardless of whether they are carried out by private individuals or police officers.  As perverse as it seems, we are now living in a time where speech itself is conflated with violence.  The whole phenomenon of microaggressions and the policing of speech is built off the ridiculous premise that being a self-appointed arbiter of “anti-oppression” affirms your progressive bona fides. This contributes to the delusion that being an obnoxious authoritarian will prevent the next Dylann Roof or improve the quality of life for blacks or [Insert oppressed group of choice].

Let’s just take the case that every act of white on black violence carried out by police officers is a product of racist attitudes.

Why isn’t anyone questioning why the police departments around the country seem so overloaded with racists?

Why is it that the social justice cops of the progressive left are dispensing idiotic lectures about “white privilege”, but are supporting the candidates who advocate for the very police state that continues to terrorize the black community in ways that are every bit as brutal as those carried out during the era in which the film is set?

Doesn’t this affirm Hayek’s argument that the  “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” in the ranks of government?

The other big disappointment of the film is that it perpetuates the myth that our humanity and basic ability to treat one another with decency and respect as well as our freedom to live self-determined lives is somehow fundamentally tied to the machinery of government.

What a sad and self-defeating message it is to assert that we are so inept as a civilization that we must prostrate ourselves before a collection of elites with guns in order to achieve moral outcomes.

The film ends with King delivering a soaring speech and cuts to the various individuals who went on to serve in seats of government power.

Due to intellectual property laws, the filmmakers were unable to use King’s actual words.  Perhaps this artistic license lent itself better to perpetuating the myth that politicians and civic leaders who seek social change through the power of the State have the power to create real racial harmony and economic prosperity.

Some Thoughts on the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy

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1. Though Batman is a more efficient crime fighter than the police and is essentially a private citizen vigilante, he’s not really a true blue libertarian because he makes common cause with the police state.  For this reason alone, he cannot be viewed as a positive archetype for individualism because he inculcates the idea that citizens are powerless to defend themselves.  
 
2. Batman’s weapons and vehicles are a product of Wayne Enterprises’ crony capitalist military contracts with the state.

3. Bane is not an anarchist because he has no appreciation for or any recognition of the Non-Aggression Principle. He is little more than a violent would-be socialist dictator seeking retribution for his imprisonment who has a solidly Marxist antipathy towards capitalism.  

4. If Batman has to circumvent “The Law” in order to combat the aggression of violent individuals, what does this reveal about the government’s ability to affect moral behavior? More importantly, if humanity must rely on a state comprised of corrupt or corruptible individuals or some kind of vigilante ubermensch in order to be spared from unspeakable aggression, isn’t the film saying that the population is both utterly helpless and devoid of agency?