Will “The Simpsons” ever be good again?

The FXX marathon makes us miss the things we loved about a great show — but those things may be gone forever

Will "The Simpsons" ever be good again?

Mr. Bergstrom and Lisa Simpson (Credit: Fox)

Remember when “The Simpsons” was good — about a week ago?

The ongoing “Simpsons” marathon on FXX began with a bang, running through the unsteady early couple of seasons quickly, then getting to hit after hit after hit. It was like living through the 1990s on warp-speed. With its earthy frankness about family life, the challenges of growing up, and the socioeconomic squeeze the American family was undergoing, it was hard to believe that this “Simpsons” had ever been made at all, let alone that it’s technically the same show that’s wrapping up its marathon this weekend and still airs on Fox every Sunday night. If FXX had really wanted to build anticipation and interest for this marathon, they should have run the episodes in reverse order; it would have been an inspiring story of a show that was mediocre for 15 years or so, then suddenly got great.

The complaints about the contemporary “Simpsons” have all been made for years. Primarily, the show, around 2000 or so, abandoned its central conceit slowly, then all at once. The Simpson family’s problems went from trying to stretch the family budget to having too many international vacations to go on or too many other shows to parody in calorie-free jokefests that had nothing to do with anything. The side characters who added color and interest to the show began to take over, with every member of the immediate family having run through every conceivable plot many times over. When episodes weren’t devoted to trips to Brazil or the backstory of Duffman, the Simpsons themselves were warped almost beyond recognition on a whim (Homer became rageful; Marge’s flitting through new fixations like bodybuilding came to look like some sort of personality disorder).

“The Simpsons” went awry for what seem like fairly obvious reasons; it ran out of stories to tell and yet had to keep going. But unlike other shows that had creative lulls and recovered late in their runs — “30 Rock” and “Frasier” come to mind — it’s hard to imagine it recovering. The trend on TV has moved so far away from what, specifically, “The Simpsons” did well, when it did things well. To wit: the five-time Emmy winner for best comedy, “Modern Family,” has placed its family in a world where any material thing is easily obtained. All its adults have lucrative jobs, or don’t need to work at all. As for other consistently successful family series on the dial — well, where are they, really? The only other show as big as “The Simpsons” is “Family Guy,” whose nihilistic attitude and giddy unconcern with material reality “The Simpsons” has aped more and more, leading up to a crossover episode this fall. What is going to push “The Simpsons” to return to depicting the Simpsons as real people when the most successful live-action comedies don’t bother?



It certainly won’t be a push from the audience. Speaking anecdotally, it’d appear that the adult audience has largely left “The Simpsons” behind; its new episodes fail to make the sort of impact among what used to be its core audience than do far-lower-rated shows like “Girls” or “Louie.” And speaking statistically, the show hit its all-time low among adult viewers last season. The teens tuning into Fox’s comedy block, on the other hand, have no expectation that “The Simpsons” be anything more than a mélange of pop culture references tied together by an over-the-top, nearly villainous dad.

It’s not “The Simpsons”‘ fault that it seems unlikely to change — the world is far too hostile to its best elements, now, because everything else on TV learned the wrong lessons from the show’s success. The Simpsons’ lives were fanciful, and so now every show like “The Simpsons” is entirely outlandish. There was a note of sarcasm, and so as though to outdo it, scorched-earth bitterness became the order of the day. Lately, showrunners have been signaling that the show will come to an end soon, even disclosing that an episode that had aired was planned as a series finale. Time is running out. But, really, all the better — it’s time for “Simpsons” fans to accept that at a time when socioeconomic satire is needed more than ever, the entertainment industry is ill-equipped to provide it.

And it’s time for something new on Fox. Perhaps the prime 8 p.m. Sunday night time slot can go to “Bob’s Burgers,” a much-lower-wattage series that has built a fanbase around its very real depictions of a marriage and a family in unglamorous surroundings. The family’s somewhat challenging economic situation — they all work together at a restaurant perpetually one emergency away from closing — isn’t the point of the show, and the emotions in play are far less overt than old “Simpsons’” open, at times gooey, sentiment. It may not be world-beatingly popular. But the expectations that come with mega-popularity, TV fans learned around 2000, can end up destroying a series.

 

Daniel D’Addario is a staff reporter for Salon’s entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/29/will_the_simpsons_ever_be_good_again/?source=newsletter

The official cover-up of social and political issues in the police murder of Michael Brown

http://cdn.breitbart.com/mediaserver/Breitbart/Big-Government/2013/07/19/al-sharpton-AP.jpg

27 August 2014

Thousands of workers and youth participated in funeral services for Michael Brown on Monday, an expression of widespread outrage over the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old. However, the funeral service itself, attended by three representatives of the Obama administration and presided over by Democratic Party operative Al Sharpton, was a thoroughly establishment, right-wing affair.

The aim of the ceremony, paid for and run by Sharpton’s organization, was to obscure the class issues raised by the killing of Brown, legitimize the de facto imposition of martial law in Ferguson, Missouri, and channel social opposition back behind the political establishment.

The ruling class responded to the spontaneous eruption of protests over the killing of Brown with a two-pronged strategy. First, the repressive apparatus of the state was mobilized, including militarized SWAT teams toting automatic weapons, driving armored vehicles, and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags at peaceful protesters. More than 200 people were arrested in the police crackdown.

Ferguson became a test case for imposing police-state conditions on an American city in response to social unrest. Journalists were threatened, arrested and assaulted. The National Guard was called in. A curfew was imposed and the constitutional right to assemble was effectively suspended under the “state of emergency” declared by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

Sheer repression did not suffice to silence the protests, however. Hence the second prong of the ruling class strategy. Figures such as Sharpton along with local preachers and Democratic Party politicians were mobilized to promote racial politics and direct the protests along safe channels. The Obama administration sent Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American, to Ferguson, and Governor Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, also an African American, to head up the police response.

This dual strategy found expression in the funeral eulogy delivered by Sharpton—both in what he said, and what he did not say. The one-time FBI informant spoke not as a partisan of the workers and youth of Ferguson, but rather as an emissary of the capitalist state, i.e., of the very forces that killed Brown and sought to crush the subsequent protests.

Most significant in Sharpton’s remarks was the absence of any reference to the social and economic issues underlying the killing of Brown (and hundreds of other police killings across the country) and the mass repression that followed. There was no mention of the unemployment and poverty that characterize Ferguson and cities throughout the country, nor was there any reference to the immense social inequality that drives the ruling class to employ increasingly violent means to suppress social anger and unrest.

Instead, Sharpton devoted much of his remarks to vile slurs against African-American youth in general and the protesters in Ferguson in particular. He complained that too many people are “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.” Celebrating the fact that a section of African Americans like himself have “got some positions of power,” he denounced those who “decide it ain’t black no more to be successful.” He continued, “Now you wanna be a n****r and call your woman a ho.”

These foul remarks, dripping with contempt, were combined with an open defense of the state. “We are not anti-police, we respect police,” proclaimed Sharpton. The murder of youth like Brown is the product only of a few “bad apples,” he declared, which can be corrected with measures like hiring more African-American police officers.

While avoiding any criticism of the massive military-police response to the protests over Brown’s killing, Sharpton repeated all the tropes used by the state to justify its repression. He bemoaned the fact that Brown’s parents “had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting,” adding, “Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances.”

The use of the word “disturbances,” part of the lexicon of the police and military, is significant, carrying with it the implication that the protests were illegitimate. The police repression, Sharpton implied, was a necessary response to violence by the protesters.

He made no mention of the connection between domestic repression and the waging of aggressive wars abroad, ignoring the fact, noted by many Ferguson workers and youth who spoke to the World Socialist Web Site, that even as the National Guard was being deployed to Ferguson, Obama was once again ramping up the US military’s involvement in Iraq.

Sharpton’s support for the police crackdown reflects what he is: an agent of the state and representative of a section of the corporate establishment and upper-middle class that has amassed great wealth even as the great majority of the population, including African-American workers and youth, has seen its living standards plummet. This privileged and corrupt social layer has long promoted identity politics to conceal the basic class divide in society and sow divisions within the working class.

In particular, Sharpton spoke as a representative of the Obama administration. He has developed the closest ties with administration officials, coordinating his actions and remarks with the White House. This is an administration that has intensified the assault on the working class and overseen an enormous growth of social inequality, while increasing the militarization of the police.

The financial aristocracy reacts to any expression of social opposition with repression. In the 1960s, the ruling class responded to urban uprisings with violence, but that was followed by pledges to address inequality and poverty and the implementation of limited social reforms. Today, the ruling class has nothing to offer but more repression.

The events in Ferguson are an expression of the explosive character of social relations in the United States. The financial aristocracy is petrified over the revolutionary implications of the open emergence of class conflict. Hence the resort to violence on the one hand and reliance, on the other, on Sharpton and other so-called “civil rights” leaders to complement state terror with diversions and lies.

Andre Damon

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

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AP Photo / Patrick Semansky

Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month’s ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

“Ordinary citizens,” they write, “might often be observed to ‘win’ (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.”

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

What happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson

by Jerome Roos on August 24, 2014

Post image for What happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson

For African Americans, the state of emergency has long been a permanent one. Now, under neoliberalism, it is fast becoming generalized across the globe.

Last week, the Governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to the St Louis suburb of Ferguson to quell a fortnight of civil unrest following the police murder of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. It was the first time since the Los Angeles riots of 1992, after the severe police beating of another black man, Rodney King, and the Battle of Seattle during the WTO trade negotiations seven years later, that the army had been called in to restore public order within US borders.

But while images of phalanxes of militarized riot police firing teargas and rubber bullets at mostly peaceful protesters have captured the attention of the world, the media circus surrounding the “riot” actually risks obscuring a largely unseen everyday reality that simmers just beneath the surface. For African Americans, the real racist violence resides not in the spectacle but in the mundane; not in the headlines but in between. As Walter Benjamin so pointedly observed at the height of the persecution in Nazi Germany, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of exception’ in which we live is the rule.”

It should be clear by now that the Ferguson riots do not appear in a political vacuum. The militarization of police, the institutionalization of racism, the criminalization of the poor, the systematic marginalization of African Americans and other minorities, the rampant intensification of historical patterns of inequality, the spatial segregation along the lines of class and color, the impunity with which the forces of the law kill, maim and humiliate the dispossessed — these are all symptoms of a series of political and economic trends, some long-term and historical, others more recent.

Clearly, then, what happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson — and the state of emergency declared by Governor Nixon merely serves to highlight a social emergency that has been quietly brewing for decades. Faced with a long, grinding history of racist oppression on the one hand, going back to the days of slavery and segregation, and a more recent pattern in police militarization and economic marginalization on the other, Ferguson has as much to do with long-established patterns of white supremacism and racist policing as it has with the consequences of state power and the neoliberal imaginary run amok.

A Global and Permanent State of Exception

It is precisely in this confluence of temporalities that the state of emergency reveals its true colors. Walter Benjamin, before meeting his tragic end as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, insisted repeatedly upon the centrality of the Ausnahmezustand, or ‘state of exception’, to sovereign power. Today, the most influential theorist of the concept is the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who — building on the adage by the Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt: “sovereign is he who decides upon the state of exception” — has crafted a refined analysis and a dystopian vision of the myriad ways in which the state of exception has become not just a technique of government, but its very logic.

“Faced with the unstoppable progression of what has been called a ‘global civil war’,” Agamben writes, “the state of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics [and] has today reached its maximum worldwide deployment.” From Fallujah to Ferguson, the similarities run deeper than the military attire or the heavy weaponry of the troops on the ground. Both places appear at a threshold of indistinction between law and lawlessness, order and disorder — a space of anomie in which human life exists largely at the mercy of the soldiers and policemen who effectively act as a sovereign power upon it.

Here, in this permanent and globalized state of exception, the classical division between public and private increasingly begins to blur. In Fallujah, private contractors were brought in to keep public order, while the US military — at the expense of the public debt — made sure to protect private interests around the clock. In Ferguson, private property is protected from looting while the public is shot at even while standing on their private porches. America wastes public money waging foreign wars for private gain, while at the same time allowing private interests to directly fund local police departments — now armed with the surplus weaponry of these same wars — to maintain public order at home. Security becomes the overarching concern of government, even as government almost always defers to private interests in slashing security when it is social.

Between Democracy and Absolutism

One of the key features of neoliberal governmentality, then, is that it insists on combining a politics of absolute liberalism in world markets with an increasingly authoritarian paradigm in national government. Even as capital flows freely across borders, rivers of migrants and refugees are either blocked and diverted or dammed and detained. Even as the barriers to global commerce are smashed with a religious zealotry reminiscent of the early crusaders, new walls are erected everywhere to keep out the dark-skinned and the poor. Even as liberal “visionaries” press for universal integration, the global reality remains one of systematic exclusion. Where wealth concentrates in ever fewer hands, where gated communities mushroom amidst the squalor of a planet of slums, the vaunted “democracy” of the global marketplace finally meets the totalitarian ambitions of the nation state. “The state of exception,” Agamben writes, “appears as the threshold of indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism.”

Given this growing indeterminacy between democracy and absolutism, war and peace, order and disorder, it should perhaps not come as a surprise that the events in Ferguson have resonated so strongly in a faraway occupied warzone like Gaza, where the absolutism of Israeli sovereignty is brutally brought down on life — to the point where Israel has even determined the exact allowed calorie intake for the strip’s 1.6 million inhabitants: 2.279 per day, to be precise. Of course, Ferguson is not Gaza (at least not yet), but there is an undeniable resonance between the two struggles, and it is not limited to Palestinian solidarity tweets for Ferguson protesters or practical advise on how to deal with tear gas and advancing police lines.

Much more than this, Palestinian/African American solidarity is the explicit subaltern expression of a recognition that not only the struggle but also the enemy is common. From the brand of tear gas to the assault tactics of the riot squads, Gaza and Ferguson are closer than many would feel comfortable to admit. Investigations have revealed that US law enforcement maintains close ties with its Israeli counterparts, and two of the four police forces deployed to Ferguson received their training in crowd control in Israel. Running an occupation is serious business, and US police departments have much to learn from their Israeli counterparts if they are to maintain America’s internal spaces of segregation in an era of deepening inequalities and growing racial tensions.

The Ghetto as an Open-Air Prison Camp

For Agamben, the state of exception finds its topological expression in the camp, which “delimits a space in which the normal order is de facto suspended and in which whether or not atrocities are committed depends not on law but on the civility and ethical sense of the police who temporarily act as sovereign.” For those on the wrong side of the war on terror, the camps are called Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. For African Americans, the camp is prison — or, increasingly often, the labor camp. If current incarceration trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend at least part of their lives behind bars. While only 12 percent of the US population is black, African American males make up 40 percent of the total 2.1 million prison population. More black men are in prison today than were enslaved before the Civil War in 1850.

As the state of exception becomes generalized, however, the boundaries between inside and outside begin to blur and the two gradually blend into one another. Bit by bit, the logic of the camp spills over into society at large. Gaza, which has been described even by UK Prime Minister David Cameron as an open-air prison camp, is perhaps the clearest contemporary expression of this phenomenon. But similar (though much less extreme) processes are afoot in the US and elsewhere, as spatial segregation becomes the hallmark of the neoliberal urban geography. Today, the ghettos of Detroit and the outer neighborhoods of St Louis, like the townships of Johannesburg and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, increasingly take on the form of open-air prison camps, in which the police permanently act as temporary sovereign, and in which poor blacks — and male youths in particular — are simply considered free game for the racist fantasies of white officers.

Patterns of Neoliberal Segregation

The contemporary nature of the ghetto and the slum as open-air prison camps is closely connected to deepening patterns of racial inequality and spatial segregation. Far from abolished, in many respects segregation — cultural and material alike — has only deepened as a result of the neoliberal restructuring of the economy. Not coincidentally, the state of Missouri, the city of St Louis and especially its restive suburb of Ferguson are among the clearest examples of these patterns of neoliberal apartheid in the US today. In 1970, only 1 percent of Ferguson’s inhabitants was black. By 2010, that share had risen to nearly 70 percent. The transformation of the town’s racial composition can be ascribed to a white exodus — partly the result of a collapse of the working class as a result of de-industrialization, with white workers moving away from the Midwest “Rustbelt”; and partly the result of an influx of cheap credit drawing a seemingly upwardly mobile white middle class out towards the suburbs.

As housing prices fell, black residents moved into the neighborhood, and pre-established local inequalities (between rental homes and self-owned properties, for instance) were only further accentuated. Meanwhile, the taxable base of local government eroded, leading to reduced budgets for public services and law enforcement. The Ferguson police department, of course, remained almost exclusively white, with obvious consequences for the black newcomers in the neighborhood: according to FBI data, 92 percent of people arrested in Ferguson on charges of “disorderly conduct” are black, while African Americans account for 86 percent of all vehicle stops. Far from protecting the peace, undertrained and overarmed police officers now consider it their job to keep a marginalized population in check through continuous harassment and accusations of petty crime. These are all mechanisms of social control.

In neoliberal America, questions of race and class have thus become nearly impossible to disentangle, and it is precisely at the intersection of the two that the neoliberal counterrevolution has struck African American families extra hard. Economic data shows that the gap in household income between blacks and whites has not been reduced since the end of de jure segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, while wealth disparities have only been deepened by the housing crisis of 2007-’08 and the subsequent recession, which affected African American households particularly badly (not least as a result of the racial profiling in Wall Street’s predatory lending practices). Today, 45 percent of black children grow up in areas of concentrated poverty, and the schools they attend are more segregated than they were in 1980. As class disparities are accentuated, so are the deeply intermeshed racial inequalities.

The Destituent Power of a Political Riot

For African Americans, therefore, the state of emergency has always been a permanent one — it did not start with the shooting of Michael Brown and it certainly will not end with Governor Nixon withdrawing the National Guard from Ferguson. What is different this time around is that the people rose up in defiance of the police murder of yet another young black man, and chose to answer the legal violence of the subsequent police crackdown with an extra-legal violence of their own. Suddenly, their mundane acts of everyday resistance coalesced into a collective act of refusal, giving rise to a political riot. And it is precisely this combination of broad-based peaceful protest with a refusal to respect the violence of the law that has instilled such fear in the halls of power.

The reason the authorities fear Ferguson is, first and foremost, the risk of “contamination” (or what we would call resonance). As the Rodney King riots of 1992 showed, a single spark can quickly set ablaze the dessicated prairies of America’s supposedly post-racial urban constellation. But there is a deeper reason why the authorities fear Ferguson, which is that sovereign power — which stands at once within and without the legal framework, capable of both enforcing and suspending the rule of law — cannot tolerate the existence of a pure form of violence outside the law. As Walter Benjamin noted in his Critique of Violence, “the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence, furnishes proof that revolutionary violence, the highest manifestation of unalloyed violence by man, is possible.” The fear, then, is that this local uprising could reveal a latent revolutionary potential in the very belly of the beast.

But even if this revolutionary potential is never fully realized, the movement towards it does appear to embody what Agamben would call a form of destituent power — a power that stands completely outside the law and that, by acting to dismantle sovereign power rather than to reform it, has the capacity to diminish the ability of the state to resort to violence and, in the final analysis, to abolish the cycle of law-making and law-preserving violence altogether. “On the breaking of this cycle maintained by mythical forms of law,” Water Benjamin once wrote, still full of hope, “on the suspension of law with all the forces on which it depends as they depend on it, finally therefore in the abolition of state power, a new historical epoch is founded.”

If we are to follow this line of analysis, the supposed “violence” of the Ferguson protests — which absolutely pales in comparison to the violence of finance capital and the state — may yet prove to be highly productive. And while the idea of a “pure” violence outside the law may sound ominous to some, we should remember that the urban riot, for all its seemingly irrational destruction and spectacular evanescence, has historically been a great force for progress. What we now call democracy would not have been possible without it. Indeed, in times of great injustice and institutional deadlock, when the violence of the law drowns out the voice of the oppressed, few things could be more welcome than the destituent power of a political riot to help recalibrate the scales of justice. This, at least, is how it starts. What happens in Ferguson does not stay in Ferguson.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/08/ferguson-state-of-exception/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia

The rules are important at Burning Man. But being rich means you get to do what you want, just like anywhere else

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia
El Pulpo Mecanico, at the Burning Man 2012 “Fertility 2.0″ arts and music festival, August 29, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

“Burning Man culture,” writes Gregory Ferenstein in Vox, “discourages money or bartering; the entire economy is a gift economy.”

Ferenstein, a regular attendee at the Nevada desert counterculture festival so beloved by Northern California’s tech-hipsters, is defending Burning Man from critics like the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, who have noted that in recent years, rich attendees have been setting up their own luxury camps within the confines of Black Rock City. Ferenstein makes some good points explaining why tech billionaires love Burning Man, but it’s still difficult to square his point on “burning man culture” with the details reported by Bilton.

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

Such camps, reports Bilton, also included “Sherpas” that serve as servants.

Ferenstein writes that the tech execs have basically the same experience as everyone else. But he appears to be tone-deaf to the enormous offense of labeling paid employees “Sherpas” and doesn’t bother to mention the female models flown in from New York. That’s not the gift economy, and it’s not the sharing economy. And it’s surely not something that anyone even imagined possible when tripping around a very big bonfire on Baker Beach in the early ’90s.



Ferenstein also wanders into a self-combusting contradiction, of the sort that would look pretty good exploding  in the desert night. Burning Man, he writes, “is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation…. At Burning Man, sharing is the economy. It’s rather appealing to the Silicon Valley elite to see an entire city function on an economic idea that is at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s an important glimpse of why the founders are so optimistic that a loosely regulated field of tech startups can outweigh the potential downsides of unregulated sharing.”

But Burning Man is intensely regulated. It’s got its own police force. Gun control is absolute. Attendance is limited to a set number of people who can afford the not-cheap tickets. The very layout of Black Rock City is a paean to planning and organization. Central control is as much the essence of Burning Man as is hedonism and fire.

We can argue about the proper extent of regulation. Is Burning Man more like Houston, which scoffs at zoning restrictions, or San Francisco, where plastic bags are outlawed? (The rules on trash at Burning Man might come off as pretty extreme to your typical happy-go-lucky free market polluter, after all.) But to use Burning Man as a model for what tech billionaires want for a greater society is to actually argue that rules are extremely important, and anarchy is a failure!

The key point made by Nick Bilton is that the very existence of a camp inside Burning Man where tickets cost $25,000 and female companionship is imported is a demonstration that Burning Man, far from being an alternative to society, is business as usual.

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/22/why_burning_man_is_not_an_example_of_a_loosely_regulated_tech_utopia/?source=newsletter

Ferguson Feeds Off the Poor: Three Warrants a Year Per Household

By Michael Daly

In the chamber where Officer Darren Wilson received a commendation six months before killing Michael Brown, a minor court generates major money from the city’s poor and working people.

The Ferguson Police have now released a video that shows police Officer Darren Wilson receiving a commendation six months before he became known to the whole nation as the cop who gunned down an unarmed 18-year-old.The irony is obvious to anyone who watches the footage of this proud young officer receiving the award at a ceremony in the City Council chamber as Ferguson’s six council members applaud.

“Officer Wilson, in recognition of outstanding police work while investigating a suspicious-vehicle call,” Chief Thomas Jackson says in making the presentation. “Acting alone, you struggled with one subject and [were] able to gain control of the subject and his car keys until assistance arrived. Later, during the interview, it was discovered that the subject was breaking down a large quantity of marijuana for sale.”

Jackson adds, “Great job, Darren.”

But there is another, unnoticed irony in the venue itself. Three times a month—one day and two nights—the City Council chamber also serves as home to the incredibly busy and extremely profitable Ferguson municipal court.

A report issued just last week by the nonprofit lawyer’s group ArchCity Defenders notes that in the court’s 36 three-hour sessions in 2013, it handled 12,108 cases and 24,532 warrants. That is an average of 1.5 cases and three warrants per Ferguson household. Fines and court fees for the year in this city of just 21,000 people totaled $2,635,400.

The sum made the municipal court the city’s second-biggest source of revenue. It also almost certainly was a major factor in the antagonism between the police and the citizenry preceding the tragedy that resulted when Wilson had another encounter with a subject six months after he got his commendation.

And any complete investigation into how Michael Brown came to be sprawled dead in the street with a half-dozen bullet wounds must consider not just the cop but the system he served, a system whose primary components include a minor court that generates major money, much of it from poor and working people.

Five of the six City Council members who meet in this chamber are white, even though the city itself is more than 70 percent black. The City Council appoints the municipal judge, currently Ron Brockmeyer, who is also white.

But when this same chamber serves as Ferguson Municipal Court, a disproportionate number of the defendants are black.

The immediate explanation is that the bulk of the cases arise from car stops. The ArchCity Defenders report notes: “Whites comprise 29% of the population of Ferguson but just 12.7% of vehicle stops. After being stopped in Ferguson, blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be searched (12.1% vs. 6.9%) and twice as likely to be arrested (10.4% vs. 5.2%).”

Lest anyone contend that blacks inherently merit greater police attention than whites, the report offers another statistic.

“Searches of black individuals result in discovery of contraband only 21.7% of the time, while similar searches of whites produce contraband 34.0% of the time.”

That would suggest both that whites were more likely to be stopped when there was actual probable cause and that blacks were more likely to be stopped when there was not. And the antagonism sure to be generated by such racial disparities was magnified by the sheer number of cases.

The report cites a court employee as saying the docket for a typical three-hour court session has up to 1,500 cases. The report goes on to say that “in addition to such heavy legal prosecution,” the Ferguson court and others like it in nearby towns “engage in a number of operational procedures that make it even more difficult for defendants to navigate the courts.”

The report goes on, “For example, a Ferguson court employee reported that the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”

The lawyers of ArchCity Defenders specialize in representing the indigent and the homeless. They noticed that many of their clients had multiple warrants on minor charges issued by municipal courts in Ferguson and the other 80 municipalities in St. Louis County that have their own courts and police.

“They didn’t just have one case, they had 10 cases,” says Thomas Harvey, the organization’s 44-year-old executive director.

The warrants too often precluded the clients from securing shelter and services, and access to job programs. The lawyers sought some remedy in the issuing courts.

“It kept being about the money,” Harvey recalls. “We were telling the court, ‘They don’t have any money because they’re homeless.’”

That same venue where Wilson received his commendation and the City Council members applauded is where justice is insulted wholesale three times a week.

The clients felt sure they were being targeted because they were black and poor, and told the lawyers tales of unfair treatment by everybody from the cops to the bailiffs to the judges.

“I’ll be real honest, I didn’t believe them,” Harvey says.

With the help of college students, ArchCity Defenders started a court watch program eight months ago. They concluded that much of what their clients had been saying was all too true. Impoverished defendants were frequently ordered to pay fines that were triple their monthly income. Some ended up with no income at all as they sat in jail for weeks, awaiting a hearing.

ArchCity decided to focus on what seemed to be three of the worst cities.

“Three courts, Bel-Ridge, Florissant, and Ferguson, were chronic offenders and serve as prime examples of how these practices violate fundamental rights of the poor, undermine public confidence in the judicial system, and create inefficiencies,” the subsequent report says.

The report was all but complete and just needed an introduction when Harvey went on summer vacation. He chanced to return the day after Michael Brown was shot to death by Officer Darren Warren.

“I got off the plane saying, ‘I got to finish this and get it out,’” Harvey recalls.

Harvey understood that whatever the particular details of the tragedy, there was also a larger context.

“It’s not just about Michael Brown and this officer,” Harvey says.

The statistics assembled for the report concerning race and car stops in Ferguson were no great surprise, especially considering that its police department is proportionately even whiter than its City Council, with just three blacks among its 52 cops. The number that jumped out was the huge revenue, big bucks for a little burg.

“Anybody who makes a revenue source a line of a budget becomes dependent on it,” Harvey suggests.

But if the system’s objective was money, the result was still that many people felt targeted because of race and class.

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/22/ferguson-s-shameful-legal-shakedown-three-warrants-a-year-per-household.html