Jack Daniel’s Recipe Is So Good, It Should Be Mandatory!

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Imagine that you were starting your own auto mechanic business. Would you think it was a good idea to have a random, totally unrelated bunch of guys decide if the cars you fixed were safe enough to put back on the road? Would their judgement likely be better than your own? What if many of them hardly had any prior experience in the field, and their sole duty was to set the “safety standards” as they deemed fit, and to punish people for driving vehicles they’ve determined to be dangerous, for whatever reasons? They may or may not have ever even worked on a car themselves, let alone studied auto mechanics, in the first place. Would that be a system guaranteed to keep things as fair and safe as possible for all parties involved, including you and your mechanic business, any future passengers of the car, any other drivers on the road, the car’s manufacturer, pedestrians, etc.? What if those random guys also happened to have some friends who worked for one of your auto shop’s competitors, and often liked to favor that business over your own, even though the other shop might not have the same spotless safety record as yours? What if they got kickbacks for doing so? Would that still seem fair to you, then, do you think? Would that still seem safe?

Well, in a nutshell, for many industries, that group of “random guys” is the government. And in Tennessee, they’re coming for your whiskey next. That’s right: these anonymous bureaucratic mobsters, most of whom lack any credible background in whiskey production, are now working to establish the standard for what “Tennessee whiskey” will officially come to be universally considered. They’ve also managed to spark quite a controversy in the process, and with good reason.

The regulation standards that are presently on the table for discussion include making it mandatory for every batch of alcohol that is produced bearing the label “Tennessee whiskey” to be made from at least 51% corn fermented mash filtered through maple charcoal, and to have an alcohol content of at least 40% by volume. Additionally, each new batch of the stuff to be produced will have to be aged in new barrels made from charred oak wood, every single time. Interestingly enough, these distillation requirements are identical to those of Jack Daniel’s–the top-selling maker of Tennessee whiskey in the world. Just a coincidence, or a calculated attempt by Jack Daniel’s and Brown-Forman (the company who owns Jack Daniel’s brand) to stifle competition?

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To that effect, even the single stipulation alone that each batch of Tennessee whiskey be aged in new barrels made of charred oak every time would raise production costs for many whiskey distillers by hundreds of dollar per barrel. A spike in cost such as that would make production virtually impossible for smaller competitors, and that’s just one of the new rules being proposed. Now, imagine each of the other new requirements’ additional costs factored in as well, and it’s easy to predict the kind of devastating effect that these new rules would have on countless businesses.

Jeff Arnett, the master distiller for Jack Daniel’s, argues that the move is no different from the standards that govern the classification of champagne versus regular wine, for example, and that the newly-imposed standards will actually benefit independent distilleries. He insists that smaller whiskey makers “don’t mind being held to a higher standard, because they don’t want to create cheap products simply to be synonymous with the state name.” Other voices in the industry seem to disagree, though, insisting that the production process should remain as it has always has in Tennessee: free and lax, allowing for greater varieties of quality and taste to be produced.

This is hardly the first time that “random guys” in government have meddled with industry in the name of regulating “certifiable standards,” though–often with the same harmful results for producers and consumers, alike. One example is the new set of labeling standards for gluten-free products, which has been in place only since August of 2013. The government now requires that in order for any product to bear the label “gluten-free,” the FDA must first conduct an “assessment” to determine that each ingredient contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten, and that the item has never at any point contained gluten (even if the gluten has since been entirely taken out). As a result, many companies must now choose a different, less-convincing description for their products’ labels. Meanwhile, large-scale producers who hold industry clout seem to have little difficulty getting their products certified.

Defenders of such policies argue that systems like this are in place to keep people safe and informed. Opponents of government monopoly over various industry standards insist that businesses’ reputations among consumers are enough of a means of regulation. They feel that basic word of mouth, along with certifications by reputable independent agencies, would do just as good of a job at keeping the public safe and informed, without the need for the expensive assessments which often favor big-name producers. Businesses that consistently and responsibly satisfied the needs and demands of their customers’ would naturally come to be trusted over those that were less reliable.

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An even worse side-effect of these kinds of policies is that oftentimes, government labeling standards aren’t entirely informative, and are frequently vague to the point of being downright misleading. An example of this is the USDA’s certification process for labeling organic products. For one thing, items bearing the “organic” label must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, as has been certified by a “USDA-accredited” third party organization. Who’s to say that those “accredited” organizations are even credible in the first place? The USDA, with their exclusive authority over the entire classification process? It’s hard to take the word of any monopoly seriously; consider the earlier example of the “random guys” favoring their friends’ business, simply because they have the power to do so. This kind of stuff happens in the real world all the time. And what’s more, the remaining 5% window allowed for non-organic ingredients is still a wide enough range of concentration for there a possibility of toxicity to remain. There are endless varieties of chemicals in existence (organic, or otherwise) which are so toxic to humans that even as small a ratio as 5% could be lethal. Such a system of labeling standards is misleading, and not only bars market entry for newer or smaller businesses, but actually makes consumers less safe by providing them with a false sense of security. At its best, it’s unnecessary; at its worst, it could be deadly.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always so obvious in every case who the well-connected political cronies are that lurk behind each of these treacherous policies, or what the true motives are behind why they’re passed into law in the first place. However, in almost every scenario, they are imposed under the guise of being in the name of public safety. Thankfully, though, the case of labeling standards for Tennessee whiskey is an exception to that all-too-common shroud of mystery. To anyone with any basic level of insight about the matter, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: this is nothing but an attempt by Jack Daniel’s and its owners to permanently corner the market for Tennessee whiskey by passing regulations to their advantage.

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Of course, there are still many instances every day where the present system of government-monopolized regulation policies does actually inform and protect consumers to an extent, but that’s not really the point here. The point is that this system is far from perfect, certainly anything but fair, and definitely not always safe. And in the case of setting standards for something as arbitrary as quality and flavor labeling of a certain type of whiskey, lawmakers aren’t even pretending that safety is the issue here, in the first place. Government has no good reason to be involved with something as trivial as labeling a style of whiskey. It’s not a public safety issue. Quality standards are something that only businesses themselves can prove to their buyers by providing a product that lives up to customers expectations of what a good “Tennessee Whiskey” ought to taste like. This legislation, if passed, will absolutely just be plain and simple market meddling to favor a specific group and disadvantage it’s competitors. Period.

In a society that was truly free, there could be more alternatives for labeling standards which are less costly to everyone, and less harmful for struggling competitors and new businesses looking to enter the market. Why not let individuals choose for themselves which products they want to buy, based on labeling systems that they come to trust through various independent means (especially now that we have the internet to help us all make better-informed decisions)? Let spontaneous order occur; people will figure out what works best for them and their loved ones. Having only one labeling system might keep people safe to a certain extent, but it squashes opportunities for new product alternatives, and ultimately limits the ability of consumers to make informed choices, because they become forced to rely on only one institution to tell them what’s safe to consume. Buyers must then trust that institution to always conduct its approvals in a fair and unbiased manner–something I’ve already given two examples of the government not always doing. Why not let freedom of information guide people in making their decisions, instead of a single third party group of “random guys” who are neither foolproof, nor necessarily impartial? It would be safer, cheaper, easier, and more fair for everyone involved, in the long run. Guaranteed.

Robin Morgan Is A Feminist Oppressor: Just Ask Her, Yourself!

So, I just saw something rather troubling on the internet that prompted me to serve up a rant for y’all if you care to hear me out on this.  The image that bothered me enough to immediately start stringing these thoughts together was a meme featuring a quote from activist/author Robin Morgan of the Feminist Majority Foundation and the American Women’s Movement, among other similarly-minded collectivist groups.

I’ll warn you in advance about its occasional profanity and subject matter.  I realize that this may very well offend some people, but I just needed to say it, and in just such a way.  First, though, here’s the image that sent me flying into such a tizzy, so you have an idea of the context:

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Anyway, here goes!

First of all, I just have to say that this lady is as pathologically fucked-up as the anti-masturbation crusader John Harvey Kellogg.  For those who may not know, Dr. Kellogg was the guy who invented corn flakes in order to create a food so impossibly bland that it had the power to prevent sexual arousal.  This unfortunate psycho spent his entire adult life working to shame both himself and others for feeling sexual urges, and doing anything he could to curb such instincts.  Anyway, this was just a personal observation that I felt the need to make about Morgan’s glaringly obvious internal cognitive dissonance.  That’s not really the point of the statement I’m trying to make here, though.  There’s more.

So, I’m all for inter-cultural prosperity and freedom from oppression in all its forms (not to mention, gender equality on the basis of individual merit), but come on now. Shaming yourself for being who you are sounds pretty fucking oppressive to me, in and of itself. What kind of outlook is that for anyone to have, let alone an “activist” and ideological talking head like Robin Morgan?  From my perspective, Morgan’s outlook is hardly any different from girls who dress and act a certain way (or even starve themselves) in order to cater to male objectification, perpetually telling themselves that they are inadequate or downright worthless, altogether.

Maybe Robin Morgan should consider joining the military or finding a way to get herself into prison if she’s having personal troubles stemming from not feeling “oppressed enough.” There are plenty of state employees working for the U.S. government who would be more than happy to help her feel more oppressed.

Or better yet, why doesn’t she go live somewhere that is oppressed to the max–like Iraq or Afghanistan, for example. It sounds like maybe the level of oppression being brought to the people of those countries (courtesy of the weapons and armies of “priveleged” “white people”) might be good for her conscience–especially since she’s taken it upon herself to share in their personal responsibility for having blood on their hands.  At least if she did any of these things I’ve suggested, she’d sound less like such a bourgeois, intellectually-charlatan hyprocrite.

If you’re looking for oppression, Robin, the world is your oyster: believe me! Carpe diem, girlfriend! Just pick your personal favorite flavor of it and follow your dreams wherever they may take you!

However, if the truth of the matter is that you don’t actually want that kind of oppression for yourself or anyone else, then perhaps a good first step to take would be to stop propagating self-shaming and inverse class-ism, especially if in practice you’re not actually willing to sacrifice those “privileges” you say you hate! Talk about inconsistency. Man, oh man.

Anyway, long story short, the underlying message of this rant is really just, “love thyself, and cause harm to none.”

And if you can’t do that, then at least don’t encourage similarly unhealthy thought patterns in others–especially so hypocritically.  YOU as an individual are not responsible for the atrocities of any collective group (whether racial, cultural, economic, or otherwise) that anyone else might claim that you belong to.  Unless YOU personally choose to willingly participate in the crimes of any such collective and deliberately commit acts of oppression against others, you are an agent of world peace like the rest of us.

In reality, there is no “we” doing any oppressing; there is no collective responsibility or guilt.  Either you’re an oppressor, or you’re not, and that’s your choice to make based on your own moral code.  Stop encouraging people to hate themselves and share in your irrational sense of personal guilt over the actions of others.  It’s not healthy for you or anyone else, and at the end of the day, it’s just another form of oppression.  Actually, self-loathing and internalized shame might just be the most crippling of all of its forms.

Video-cast with Derrick J Freeman!

It’s been a whirlwind of productive activity for me lately! Between Sick Sad World, starting my new job now that I was finally granted an ID by the state, and the Community Supported Kitchen I help organize every week (not to mention, my social life, which seems to be thriving despite all of these obligations), there really hasn’t been any time in my schedule left over for anything else.

However, after finding out at the last minute that Derrick J and I were in fact not going to be guest-hosting The Angel Clark Show earlier tonight (as we had expected), we took advantage of some of the extra time we were afforded and recorded a brief video podcast about some of today’s news stories.

Topics include the death of Fred Phelps, two incidents of inmate death by neglect while they were serving time in jail, and a recent study put out by the White House claiming that Americans spend roughly $100 billion on illicit drugs annually.  Check it out, if you’d like–hope you enjoy it!

Also, Episode 5 of Sick Sad World, a sister project of Stateless Statements and Peace News Now, is now available ***here*** if you have any interest in that.  Some new blog pieces of mine (of a more humorous nature) are posted on Sick Sad World’s website, as well.

“Papers, Please! Papers, Please!”

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So, after 23 years of life and a two-month-long struggle trying to get it, I have finally been issued my first-ever state ID card.

For me, this is a huge deal–I’ve always resisted the institution of a state-issued identification system for a variety of reasons, generally privacy-related. The idea of a scannable government barcode used to track you and your purchases, as well as to aid police in running background checks by creating a centralized pool of identities and the criminal records associated with them, has always turned me off. I’ve never understood how having one’s “papers” could be such a necessity in the “land of the free;” all I can hear when the need to check them arises is, “Papers, please. Papers, please. Vere are your papers??” like the Nazis used to do.

Because I believe that all individuals are sovereign inhabitants of planet earth, and that country borders are just imaginary lines created by the state and enforced with violence, I feel as though mandatory state identification cards are contrary to both natural law and the overall freedom of mankind.  It ought to be up to individuals themselves, and those with whom they directly interact, to determine how one’s identity ought to be proven.  Even in the total absence of government, there would certainly still be a market for identification and background information services.  The demand for them might perhaps be even greater in the absence of a state, actually.  The ability to verify one’s own identity, as well as others’, can be quite crucial in many scenarios.  It’s only when the state holds a centralized monopoly over such identification practices that I take issue with them.

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Somehow, I’ve managed to avoid getting an ID for this long.  When it came to employment, I would always just find jobs that didn’t require one, or where I knew people who could let not having an ID slide.  Renting my various living spaces throughout the years followed a similar model.  When it came to having fun, I’ve always managed to get into various bars and events using the countless connections I’ve had to make.   In order to enjoy my life without giving in to the will of the system, I had to make and keep strong personal connections; my very livelihood depended on it.  Unfortunately, I still have had to miss out on a lot of good times and opportunities as a consequence of not having the required identification.  It has always just been an unfortunate price I was willing to pay in order to remain outside of “the system”–that is, until quite recently.

The only reason I even decided to cave in and get one in the first place after all this time without it is because I have been out of work for the past several months, and both of the positions I was finally offered after extensive job hunting required a photo ID before I could even start working.  I haven’t been able to pay rent, and have been literally penniless for the last month or so, during which time I tried to get my documentation together for the state.  Thankfully, my parents had my original birth certificate, but my Social Security card was lost.  It was pretty clear that step one was to work on getting a new one.

The first time I went to the Social Security office, located in center city, Philadelphia, I waited for two and a half hours in a room full of all kinds of people (and their screaming kids) from all walks of Philadelphia life while the security guards patrolled us all, yelling at anyone who dared to use their cellphone.  After my number was finally called (yes, you really are just a number there), they denied me from being issued a new Social Security card because my date of birth was absent from my medical insurance card.  They told me I had to come back with additional papers.  Of the list of acceptable documents, the only option that I had left was my high school transcripts.  I’ve never had a bank account (you can’t get one without a photo ID card), and I no longer have health insurance; it’s been years since I’ve even been to see a doctor, let alone a Primary Care Practitioner.  My only remaining chance was to go back to my “alma mater” and retrieve whatever records they had of me.  Also, there was no one available to answer my questions about their requirements when I tried to call–it states clearly on their website that there are no live operators for the Social Security phone line.  Moreover, the telephone numbers of their individual office locations are unlisted–you get what you get when there’s a monopoly over any service, whether you like it or not.  There’s no competition.

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I was hardly shocked to discover that the school (a public school, if that even bears mentioning) had lost my medical records.  The woman  behind the desk told me that they must have had them at one point or another, otherwise I would never have even been able to attend in the first place.  Basically, all I got out of my interaction with the school was a resounding, “Oops!”  My transcript was all they could offer me, and the photos of me that were included with it were so blurry from the cheap Xerox printer ink and ancient scanner they had used to enter them into their database.  When I took this to the DMV (along with my birth certificate, former medical insurance card, old W2 forms, and official jury duty notifications), they told me it wasn’t enough.  I still needed a Social Security card.

And so I went back to the Social Security office, this time trying a slightly different approach with the attendant who saw me.  I simply handed her all of my documentation, saying confidently, “Here’s my birth certificate, insurance card, and high school transcripts with photos, just like you asked.”  Thankfully, she overlooked the fact that the insurance card lacked my birth date, and after waiting about a week and a half, I received my new card in the mail.

Finally, with all of my paperwork in order, I went back to the DMV again, only to be told that I lacked an acceptable proof of residency because none of the documents I’d provided had been issued within the previous 90 days.  90 days.  That’s all they give you in New Jersey.  I went into hysterics, and the man behind the counter told me that my stepfather and I would have to issue a statement that I lived with him at the address I was claiming and have it notarized.  I asked him and the woman next to him if they ever felt like the gestapo, demanding peoples’ papers and processing them into a system that is oppressive, corrupt, and invasive of privacy.  All he said in response was, “Nein,” and then threatened to have me escorted out by police if I didn’t calm myself down.  We were already leaving anyway to go have that letter notarized, though.

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Once all that had been settled, and the DMV had finally approved me as qualifying for an ID, they moved me to another booth to have my photograph taken.  To my dismay, they wouldn’t let me use my old mugshot from my 2011 arrest as my photo on the ID as I had requested.  The guy at the desk even said to me flat out that, “It’s basically a mugshot we’re taking of you, anyway.” I asked him if he was seriously listening to the words coming out of his mouth; he ignored the question.  I managed to sneak a bit of a scowl into the photo, at least–I do not look happy about any of this.

I also tried to use, “All Rights Reserved,” as my signature, but after a big debate about it between myself and the supervisor, they still wouldn’t let me. So instead, I sneaked an anarchy symbol in with it.

It’s still amazing to me that I can get into bars now, though, or on airplanes (or trains, for that matter: most transit methods demand identification nowadays).  As dehumanizing and against my will as the whole process has been, it’s interesting that there is a certain element of liberation that comes with having an ID when one lives within the confines of such an un-free society. But anyway, I’m ready to finally join the world of adults, with all of its legally granted privileges. It’s just a shame that without a little piece of plastic with our name and picture on it that assigns us all our government barcodes, we are denied such endeavors. But anyway, here’s to the future! I’m just glad this ridiculous, soul-crushing, and old-world-ish mess of bureaucracy is over with, finally, and I can resume my status as a productive member of society and begin to support myself once again.

And get into bars, obviously.  Did I mention that already?

Murdered On Tape by Police: Luis Rodriguez

Sorry for the hiatus, everyone.  It was partially due to a move to a different state, needing to deal with some tremendous personal upheavals, and starting work on a new YouTube show with long-time friend, outstanding activist, and media talent Derrick J. Freeman.  You can click on his name for a link to his website Peace News Now, or click here for the link to our new show and YouTube channel: Sick Sad World.  “Bringing you the best of the worst news.”  Below is our newest episode; it is our fourth so far.

Since working on Sick Sad World, I must say that I have become inundated with some rather dismal show material, especially from people sending me suggestions for stories to cover each week.  The case that I’m about to illuminate was featured in this week’s episode, which we’ve titled “Horror In the Streets,” and with good reason–this story alone is enough to warrant such a sensational title.  My intention for this post is to draw some attention to the video that is about to follow.

In all of my years of sifting through news, especially concerning police brutality, I have never seen a video as chilling and truly telling of the horrors of the American police state.  Believe me when I tell you that I read a lot of news, and have perhaps become a bit jaded by all of it over the years.  For a video to stand out to me the way that this one does is unusual, to say the least.  Its footage is a remarkable example of why videography is so important for police accountability in the 21st century.

The clip depicts the final moments of Luis Rodriguez, as well as the subsequent realization by his wife that her unarmed husband has been murdered by police before her very eyes.  During the entirety of this brutal and horrific series of events, the police repeatedly attempt to investigate and charge her with a crime.  After she had been involved in a minor domestic dispute with her daughter while inside of a movie theater, the police were called to investigate, and when Luis allegedly became uncooperative, the situation rapidly escalated to shocking proportions.

Words can’t describe how I feel about this story and this video, but I feel as though it speaks for itself.  Please, watch with caution, if you can: this is pretty “real.”  If you can’t bring yourself to see it for yourself, please at least share this post with the world, or any other information about this tragic story that you can.  This video could be a real game-changer if it gets enough exposure.

It’s time the world sees the truth about the badged ruling class that violently roams the streets of American cities everywhere.  It’s time for people to speak up against the monopoly on violence that is the very institution of government itself.  It’s time to speak up against the legions of armed gang members who use their “authority” status to violently enforce state policies, commit crimes, and then cover them up.  It’s time for a shift towards freedom and, above all else, peace.

***Here is a link that will provide you with additional information about this unfortunate story.***

Sledgehammers, Shopping Carts, Flight Tickets, and Nutter

In a series of shocking displays that can be described as nothing short of bizarre, Democratic State Representative Tom Brower has recently undertaken an aggressive personal crusade against the epidemic of homelessness that has come to ravage his home state of Hawaii.  The disgruntled public official has taken to patrolling his district of Waikiki-Ala Moana, armed with a sledgehammer, which he uses to forcefully destroy shopping carts that have been left behind by members of the local homeless population.  Brower was apparently driven to take matters into his own hands amid the region’s escalating epidemic of homelessness, attempting to clean up one of the neighborhood’s “biggest eyesores” (as he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser): the remnants of vagabonds’ castaway luggage carriers.  While one can only surmise as to how effective the act of lashing out against an inanimate symbol of desolate poverty could be, the practice of attacking the symptoms of destitution–rather than the root cause–seems to have caught on among politicians from various other cities across the United States.

Brower (nicknamed the “Evil Miley Cyrus“) also admits to frequently waking up any sleeping vagrants that he finds lounging about throughout the city, bellowing orders such as, “Get your ass moving!” in an attempt to clear them off the streets.  Ironically, however, Brower insists that he never disturbs sleeping have-nots during nighttime hours, out of respect for their circumstances.  And there is quite a set of circumstances to be taken into consideration on Oahu, indeed: between 2005-2007, the homeless population of the island increased by a staggering 28.6% [1].  Homelessness is certainly becoming an urgent problem in Hawaii, and Brower’s measures are not the only actions that have been taken by government officials in an attempt to counteract the epidemic.

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Another doomed attempt to combat the rapid increase in Hawaiian homelessness is scheduled to debut itself during Hawaii’s fiscal year of 2014.  Entitled the “Return to Home” program, this new government initiative will be providing one-way airline tickets to select destitute individuals, flying them back to the United States mainland in the hopes of reducing the island state’s population of more than 17,000 homeless people.  Critics say that the program could create the illusion to those seeking to take advantage of it that there will always be a guaranteed flight back to the continental U.S. waiting for them in the event that it becomes necessary to leave the island, but supporters of this new provision argue otherwise.  According to the project’s enthusiasts, only as many as 100 people per year will be eligible to participate in it, limiting the potential for its services to be taken advantage of. [2]

Similar methods of dealing with socio-economic challenges such as these have been observed recently in other American cities, as well.  In New York City, the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg has on occasion utilized a program which is not unlike Hawaii’s upcoming “Return to Home” program in order to combat its own epidemic of homelessness.  From 2007-2009, the city paid for the airline flights of 550 struggling families with the intention of aiding them in making their pilgrimage elsewhere, all in the hopes that they might settle down and live more comfortably in some other part of the world.  New York City’s Department of Homeless Services is in charge of coordinating these assisted excursions, whose annual expenses consume roughly $500,000 of the city’s yearly budget.   Supporters of the initiative extoll that the program is far more affordable than the alternative option, which is to provide housing for these families through the city’s system of homeless shelters at an annual cost of approximately $36,000 per family.  Apparently, it is simply cheaper for the city to send such disparate people elsewhere and forget about them entirely, showcasing yet another depiction of the government’s recent inclination to address merely the symptoms of debilitating poverty (in this case with the intention of saving city money), rather than remedying its underlying causes. [3]

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In Philadelphia, the so-called “City of Brotherly Love,” neither shopping carts, nor homeless individuals themselves have become the focus of such eradication efforts by local officials.  Instead, the city’s own destitution crisis has prompted an attempt at a different sort of extrication, altogether.  In March of 2012, the city’s mayor, Michael Nutter, announced that a ban on the feeding of homeless people would soon go into effect at any of the city’s outdoor locations that generally draws a high level of pedestrian traffic.  Unconvincingly citing sanitation issues and a concern for the individual dignity of those receiving the food donations as being the primary motivation for passing the ban, Nutter declared:

“Providing to those who are hungry must not be about opening the car trunk, handing out a bunch of sandwiches, and then driving off into the dark and rainy night.” [4]

He went on to insist that every individual deserves the right to eat a proper meal in a comfortable, indoor setting, a belief which he proceeded to reiterate in numerous interviews:

“My motivation is not to exclude anyone.  I want a hungry person in need to know they can go to a clean, dry place.” [5]
The mayor’s spokespeople echoed similar sentiments, among them, Mark MacDonald, who spoke with USA Today on behalf of Nutter, claiming that the ban was aiming to force the homeless to go indoors to eat their meals in the hopes that they might become subjected to other health services (or so he alleged):
“This is about an activity on city park land that the mayor thinks is better suited elsewhere.  We think it’s a much more dignified place to be in an indoor sit-down restaurant…The overarching policy goal of the mayor is based on a belief that hungry people deserve something more than getting a ham sandwich out on the side of the street.” [6]
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At no point did Nutter or his representatives address the point that few individuals, if any, would rather starve on the street than eat a much-needed meal in an outdoor environment.  Nor did they offer to provide an indoor dining environment for the homeless, despite being so seemingly passionate about this detail.  This is comparable to the fact that at no point did Rep. Tom Brower address the fact that lashing out against shopping carts (or any other artifact common among the poor) would have absolutely no impact on reducing Hawaiian poverty levels.  Regardless of the empty gestures committed in either case, or by either of the two ultimately powerless political saps, the obvious truth of the matter remains unchangeable: homelessness doesn’t cease to exist simply because one of its many physical symptoms goes under attack from some desperate politician.  No individual or group of individuals can reduce the level of destitution in society simply by destroying a vagabond’s shopping cart, or by forcing him to eat indoors, or by purchasing him a plane ticket to some other faraway place–doing so may at most conceal some of the more obvious aspects of the economic suffering of a society, if even that.

While the outwardly freakish wrath being wielded by Rep. Tom Brower against both inanimate objects and the sleeping impoverished alike is simultaneously alarming, comical, and ultimately pathetic, the underlying motivation behind such outbursts is actually a relatively common theme among politicians nowadays.  Powerless to prevent the onward march of society towards escalating poverty and economic despair as the financial climate of the 21st century continues its downward spiral, desperate politicians like Brower, Bloomberg, and Nutter can only be expected to continue to do what is typical of elected officials in such times of social distress: lash out by passing laws, all of which are enforced with violence.

Whether on a scale of pitifully-channeled, simple-minded, and childish aggression directed toward an inanimate object–such as in Brower’s case–or in a more complex and sophisticated manner, involving the ill-conceived redistribution of wealth (as has been exhibited by Bloomberg and Nutter), politicians inevitably have only one card available for them to play: the use of force.  And (as has been demonstrated so conveniently by the outcome of Brower’s tantrums) beating a misplaced shopping cart with a sledgehammer does nothing to alter society’s level of poverty–if anything, it only makes the vagabond with little else to carry his cargo around in even poorer than he had been to start with.  Neither of these scenarios differs from one another with any measure of significance, in that respect.  Poverty is poverty, and force is force, and politicians are ultimately powerless to treat even the symptoms of poverty through such brutish means.  And if they are so unable to treat even the very symptoms of destitution, how could they ever possibly hope to cure the root cause of the condition itself–whether they choose to brandish either a sledgehammer or a scrawled edict to aid in the attempt?

Sources:

  1. N/A. “Hawaii lawmaker wages campaign against the homeless and their belongings with sledgehammer.”  Russia Today.  19 Nov. 2013. http://rt.com/usa/hawaii-sledgehammer-homeless-possessions-986/
  2. Wing, Nick.  “Hawaii ‘Return To Home’ Program Will Pay To Fly Homeless To The Mainland.”  Huffington Post.  25 Jul. 2013.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/25/hawaii-return-to-home-homeless_n_3653498.html
  3. Bosman, Julie.  “City Aids Homeless With One-Way Tickets Home.”  New York Times.  28 Jul. 2009.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/29/nyregion/29oneway.html?_r=1&
  4. Dunn, Mike.  Hunter, Walt.  “City To Ban Street-Corner Feedings Of Homeless.”  CBS Philadelphia.  14 Mar. 2012.  http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/03/14/nutter-announces-ban-on-outdoor-feeding-of-homeless/
  5. Hill, Miriam.  “End to feeding homeless in city parks?”  Philly.com.  14 Mar. 2012.  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/heardinthehall/publicfeeding.html?c=r
  6. Pearce, Matt.  “Homeless feeding bans: Well-meaning policy or war on the poor?”  11 Jun. 2012.  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/11/nation/la-na-nn-homeless-feeding-bans-20120611

The Latest Trials and Tribulations of Activist Rich Paul, Modern Folk Hero

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Activist Rich Paul, Outside of the Cheshire County Courthouse

The remarkable story of jailed New Hampshire marijuana activist Rich Paul has become widely shared and justifiably celebrated in the past year or so since his troubles with the state first began. His story has been diligently covered by a variety of both major and independent news and blog sites, and was most notably featured not just once, but twice among the outlandish and eye-catching stories of the tremendously-popular VICE media group, which could arguably be nicknamed the “front page of the internet.” After refusing to accept the state’s bribes in exchange for pleading guilty to charges of drug trafficking, the heroic activist (who first gained notoriety after starting the public marijuana “4:20 rallies” in New Hampshire) turned down offers of shorter jail-time and other lesser sentences in order to stick to his principles. In fact, he even went so far as to refuse the final plea deal that was offered to him on the day before his trial proceedings began, which would have resulted in his having to spend absolutely no time in jail and an immediate sentencing for an extended period of probation instead. However, selling his own morals out in such a slippery manner and admitting guilt for a peaceful act that had ultimately been his own choice (and which had left no victims in its wake) would have been utterly unthinkable for someone as principled and true to himself as Rich Paul.

(As a side note: I will from here-on continue to refer to him as “Rich,” due to our status as friends who operate on a first-name basis, and because it would seem weird to refer to him as “Paul” or “Rich Paul” for the rest of this article.  Also, I don’t think he’d like it if I did.)

On the contrary, wrongfully condemning oneself to admitting false guilt for having committed an act that is only considered criminal in the eyes of a morally-bankrupt and predatory organization such as the state would have been far more damning for any truly honest person than whatever sentence could be delivered by robe-wearing men in positions of judicial “authority.” Rich is indeed so hardcore about his beliefs that he was willing to risk a sentence of up to 81 years in prison in order to stand up for his actions–and all just for selling medically-harmless products to those who willingly wanted to buy them from him. Since the very beginning of his struggles with the state, he has refused to cooperate with authorities or betray either himself or his associates, even when he was threatened and bribed by FBI agents to wear a microphone into an establishment formerly-known as the Keene Activist Center.  At the time, the “KAC” had been a regular gathering place where a noteworthy group of New Hampshire-based libertarians engaged in social functions of an exclusively peaceful nature.  Unfortunately, the KAC came to find itself under official speculation due to the anti-establishment viewpoints of its members, but the investigation seems to have fizzled out following Rich’s refusal to participate in it.

Rich has remained incarcerated since April 18th, 2013, and is serving his time in the Cheshire County House of Corrections for five drug-related felony charges for which he was sentenced on June 7th (including one conviction for a piece of paper, wrongfully presumed to contain LSD).  However, Rich and his countless supporters argue that his actions never hurt anyone in the first place. His courageous determination to stand up to the unjust drug laws that so many across the nation are beginning to find the courage to speak out against makes him deserving of any drug war activist’s moral support.  However, I should note that my recent investigations into Rich’s well-being have only revealed that he needs support from the activist community now more than ever.

Rich has recently been denied access to the jail’s freshly-enacted “partial release” program by the facility’s superintendent, Richard Van Wickler.  The program was first introduced to the jail’s “eligible” inmates on September 26, 2013, allegedly with the intent to allow prisoners to leave the grounds for extended periods of time.  Under the condition that participants in the program pay $20 a day to wear a bracelet that acts as a tracking device that monitors their every move, those who are approved for the experimental approach to “correction” receive more preferable experiences than simply sitting in jail cells for the duration of their sentences.  However, in the almost two months since the policy was brought into existence at the jail, only a few inmates have ever been approved by Van Wickler (the man who holds the ultimate say over which prisoners are granted access to the program). One such individual, despite having been convicted of embezzlement–a far more serious crime, and one which establishes a very clearly identifiable victim, unlike in that of Rich’s case–was approved for partial release by Van Wickler, but later ultimately denied the grant by the local prosecutor. Van Wickler’s sole justification for letting a thief go, rather than a peaceful merchant, was as follows: “I just don’t think that he [Rich Paul] will stay out of jail.”  It is also interesting to note that among those who have been approved for the program is a fellow marijuana convict.  But such is often the logic used in a system where personal pull holds more sway than honest and upright justice, in terms of right and wrong.

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Rich in Action with His Now-Infamous Bullhorn

Following his incarceration, Rich began composing a motion to be presented before the courts as an argument that he was deserving of either a home confinement sentence (rather than outright jail-time), or of being let out on the terms of a work release program.  Shortly after being taken into custody, his progress on the motion was cut short after his keyboard privileges were suddenly denied on the grounds that other inmates in the past had abused such privileges. It was not until Rich was transferred to a new cell block that he regained the use of a keyboard through what seems to have been little more than a bureaucratic clerical error that worked in his favor.  Upon its completion, the motion and its accompanying collection of information were presented to the court by friend and fellow activist Ian Freeman (founder of FreeKeene.com, a website for which Rich has remained an active contributor, even during his time spent in jail).  The accompanying selection of facts that was submitted with the motion included over 170 pages of marijuana facts and statistics, in addition to the deeply moving and detailed statements Rich had penned in order to address both his existential innocence and personal suffering as a result of having been wrongfully caged for a victimless act.  The motion presented four requests to the courts that could possibly have been granted to him: that he either be released early as a result of the time he had already served, that he be granted home confinement in the event that he were to be denied his request for early release, that he be granted work release in the event that he was denied the request for home confinement, or finally, that he be granted a hearing on the matter if all else had failed.  Both the prosecutor and the judge granted Rich access to either a home confinement or work release program, but superintendent Van Wickler denied him both.

As a result, Rich’s only remaining option is to stay in jail until his upcoming release date, which will be determined by an executive decision based on his “good time” spent in jail. His only other option for an early release would have been a bail motion, which has been denied by the Supreme Court.  Hopefully, the Supreme Court will overturn his conviction during the appeal process (which will begin in January), a decision which may take up to two months before being made.  During the appeal proceedings, Rich’s best hope lies in New Hampshire’s unique and groundbreaking new state law, which authorizes defense attorneys to explain the legal process known as “jury nullification” to members of a jury during the actual court proceedings.  Jury nullification is the avenue through which jurors are legally permitted to determine the outcome of a case, based not only on its facts and circumstances, but also upon their own consciences regarding the very nature of the law itself: it gives individuals the ability to vote “not guilty” on behalf of individuals who are being tried for breaking a law that is altogether immoral.

Ultimately, if even one juror in Rich’s case were to vote “not guilty,” (despite whatever evidence might exist that could legally incriminate him) simply because they felt that marijuana prohibition is wrong as a practice altogether, Rich would legally have to be found innocent.  No other state has ever allowed such an important aspect of the justice system to be clarified in a courtroom before members of a jury, despite the complete legality of the procedure.  In fact, many states have attempted (often successfully) to prosecute jury rights activists for jury tampering upon becoming aware of efforts to educate individual jurors about their rights to vote their conscience during the trial process.

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Friends and Supporters Conduct Jury Nullification Outreach for Rich

Until that time comes, however, Rich has remained active, despite his incarceration.  During the course of his time spent in captivity within the Cheshire County House of Corrections (which has been pseudo-affectionately nicknamed the “Keene Spiritual Retreat” by fellow liberty activists), Rich has made efforts to maintain contact with the outside world as a content contributor for the aforementioned website “Free Keene.”  Blogging from time to time about the atrocities he has been forced to undergo throughout the duration of his involuntary stay in the facility, he has certainly shed some light onto the struggles of incarcerated victims of the drug war.  However, Rich and others now suspect that his honest and damning portrayals of the ugly realities of everyday cell-block life might be contributing to the recently-escalating levels of disdain and contempt with which he has been treated as of late.  Since publishing such gut-wrenching articles as, ” ‘House of Corrections’ is House of Horrors for Mentally Ill,” Rich has begun to find himself more and more frequently on the receiving end of a flurry of minor behavioral write-ups, which ultimately could add up to some less-than-trivial consequences.

Another factor in what might ultimately be a case of outright discrimination against Rich by his jailors for political or personal reasons could be his ongoing insistence that he be permitted to exercise his legally-protected religious freedoms.  Rich has repeatedly requested to meet with a clergy member of his faith and personal choice, but has been denied these requests by those holding the keys to his cell.  Following Ian Freeman’s decision to establish the duplex he calls home (which also houses the studio where he records his nightly talk-show, “Free Talk Live,”) as a parsonage for the newly-established Shire Free Church, Rich attempted to receive clergy visits from its ministers.  Van Wickler denied Rich’s requests to approve Wendy French, Freeman himself, or any other member of the Shire Free Church as Rich’s designated religious confidant.  Rich’s main point of contention with Van Wickler’s decision is that it violates his 1st Amendment right to practice the religion of his choice.  Furthermore, Van Wickler has accused the Shire Free Church of having established itself as a religious organization in order to become a so-called “Trojan horse,” attempting to enable its members to gain entry to the jail.  The superintendent has since prohibited henceforth any and all members of the Shire Free Church from receiving a “clergy” approval on his behalf.

The ultimate result of these varying factors is as follows, and could potentially lead to some rather dire consequences in terms of Rich’s maintenance of his “good time,” as well as his track record for personal conduct during his time spent at the correctional facility.  In a worst-case scenario, Rich’s release date could potentially come to be delayed as a result of repeated disciplinary offenses. Presently, both he and those close to him will continue to remain in a state of tension until his long-awaited release, which will hopefully fall between the dates of December 12th-17th, as long as everything goes according to schedule.

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Rich During A Previous Arrest for His Activism

During the course of his imprisonment, Rich has been written up a total of six times for various insignificant, petty, and downright cruel reasons.  Each of these six write-ups has resulted in an individual penalty of having his visitation privileges suspended for a full week.  As a result of these seemingly-minor disciplinary actions, Rich has already lost six weeks of visitation time during the course of the seven months he has already spent behind bars.  That’s a month and a half’s worth of time during which he has been denied access to any trusted companionship.  He has had to spend forty-two days alone, locked inside of a cage that comprises just one cell of a gigantic kennel that has been built by the government to contain countless more human beings just like Rich as captives, and far too many for victimless crimes.  It could even be argued that this is a violation of the 8th Amendment’s protections against the use of cruel and unusual punishment, although little can be done at this point to further pursue the matter.

One incident that resulted in such a write-up came about when Rich was asked by another inmate why he was no longer on duty pushing carts to transport items around the jail complex.  When he responded that it was due to a guard’s personal issues with Rich, the guard in question revealed that he had been eavesdropping on the two’s conversation, and subsequently wrote him up for purely personal reasons.  Another incident that could serve to trigger similar trepidations about the true motives for why Rich has been dealt such penalties came about when he was cited for, “exercising on the second deck,” after having absent-mindedly paced the length of four cell-doors’-worth of distance along the jail’s upper level.  Before he could even realize that he had broken any rules, he had already been slapped with the written penalty.  A punishment that was similarly trivial in nature resulted when he was unexpectedly awakened at 5AM to serve a previously-unannounced shift in the jail’s kitchen and was issued another week’s worth of isolation due to, “not moving fast enough,” upon first waking.

Perhaps most outrageous of them all, however, is the citation he most recently received for poor hygiene in the form of wearing “smelly shoes.”  Because of the fact that only the jail is permitted to provide prisoners with their footwear, Rich has repeatedly begged the corrections officers to grant him a fresh pair, yet no initiative was ever taken on the part of the jail’s staff to grant him his conscientious requests.  Needless to say, he has since been granted new shoes by the jail, despite having received them too little, too late, and has again been forced to spend an entire week without any outside visitors, in addition to being issued yet another negative mark on his record of personal behavior.

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Cheshire County House of Corrections

Until December 12th-17th (the tentative dates of his release before his appeal trial begins sometime in January of 2014), the only thing that Rich can do right now is to try to bide his time and keep himself out of trouble as much as possible.  Hopefully this will be a possibility for him.  Despite finding himself in a scenario that is so unfairly rigged against him, the best he can hope for is that his record will continue to remain free of too many disciplinary issues and be released according to schedule.  Rich’s birthday is on December 5th, so any cards or messages (or other forms of contact) would be greatly appreciated to help ease the loneliness of spending his birthday in a cage.  Contact information detailing where to send cards and letters, as well as various other means of contact and donations, can be found listed below.  With the best of circumstances and some lucky factors, Rich will be released into the waiting arms of his friends, loved ones, and fellow activists sometime within the next month.

Rich is presently in immediate need of housing provisions for when he is released from jail, preferably within the region of Manchester, New Hampshire.  Anyone who might be able to provide a hero like Rich with a place to stay should reach out to him as soon as possible through one of the contact methods listed below.  Unfortunately, he will likely find himself on probation for up to three years, during which time any residence in which he stays may become subject to random searches by probation officers who seek to keep people like Rich in cages.  As a result, such a risk has made the process of arranging a personal sanctuary for himself to reside once he has been released rather difficult.  He will also be in desperate need of legally-verifiable employment, and any potential leads in that department would also be greatly appreciated at this time, especially given his unfortunate acquisition of felony charges.

Anyone wishing to contact him can find the information necessary for doing so below.  Rich and his friends, loved ones, fellow activists, and followers (including myself) thank you for any and all of your help and support during this difficult time.  Please wish him the best, and reach out to him in any ways that you can if you find the time.  He needs your support, and it’s lonely where he’s being held prisoner right now, so don’t hesitate to drop him a line.  Your gestures will be appreciated far more than you could ever realize, and there is never too much contact with the outside world for someone who is wrongly kept locked inside of a jail cell.

***Note:  Securus Technologies is offering a “holiday special” for at-home visits on their website (link below).  With Rich’s birthday coming up, this is an excellent opportunity to pay him a birthday visit!***

Rich Paul’s Contact/Donation Information:

  • Electronic Donations can be made at: http://www.gofundme.com/RichPaul
  • Letters and other additional donations can be sent via the MailToJail service at http://www.mailtojail.com
  • Personal checks may be made out to Rich Paul and mailed to: Wendy French, 73 Leverett Street, Keene, NH 03431
  • To write to him via traditional “snail-mail,” send addressed envelopes to: Rich Paul, c/o The C.C. H.o.C. , #825 Marlboro Road, Keene NH 03431
  • To schedule an in-person visit, please set up an “on-site video service” account with Securus Technologies at: http://www.securustech.net
  • Anyone who would like to visit, but is unable, and would instead prefer to call Rich can set up an “Advanced Connect” account with Securus Technologies at the website listed above.  Fees may vary.