US Politics Fix; Starting the Process

This will probably turn into a page of its own at some point, a book-length outline of the problems and processes that have to be reformed, and the obstacles in the way of average Americans retaking control of their government from the political bosses, corporate sponsors, and wealthy contributors who currently control it.

We have to start somewhere, so let’s start at the beginning.

A bright, fresh-faced teenager sees the problems in the world, the calcified systems in the US that seem incapable of dealing with these problems and asks himself/herself

how do I get involved in this? How do I change this?

The answer to that question is related to current events, and the image at right.

In the midst of a sideshow barker taking over the Republican primary process on the one hand, and a proud Socialist trying to pull the Democratic primary onto liberal ground it hasn’t seen since the 1970’s, I find myself without a group I feel can align with once again.

I left the Libertarian Party due to their inability to separate their ideological dedication to anarchism from the goal of actually winning the democratic election process.

Now I’m wondering just what the rest of the American populace is smoking, not just the libertarians, because it must be some good shit for everyone to be so clueless all of a sudden.

I really can’t make heads or tails of the purpose of all of this noise. I’m once again reminded of the Babylon 5 episode with Drazi killing Drazi over what color sashes they randomly select.  What I can say for certain is that Americans in general are dissatisfied with the political process as we’ve come to know it.  I can say that because the only reason that two outsiders could dominate the early potential candidate fields in polling is because Americans don’t like either of the two parties.

So what about third parties? is the question now being asked.  That would be backtracking for me.  I’m a veteran of the failed political process that is third party attempts at wresting control from the two major factions. For more than a decade I worked in the trenches, canvassing, promoting, representing the Libertarian Party in Texas in the best light that I could generate for it. I was never very important to the party (as I’m sure local activists will be quick to point out) but it was important to me, until it wasn’t anymore.

The Libertarian party wasn’t important to me anymore because several points of reality became clear to me over my time in the party. The points of reality?

  •  The majority of the U.S. population was never going to embrace anarchism and/or smaller government than currently exists in the US right now.

…and 

  • Majority of a population is what determines the leadership in a democratic process.

…Finally 

  • I was no longer personally convinced that the U.S. actually suffers from too much government. What the U.S. suffers from is ineffective and inefficient governance. Looking at the circus acts currently playing, one might well wonder if that wasn’t the purpose from the beginning. Harry Browne said government doesn’t work long before Ronald Reagan said it. Both of them are incorrect. They are incorrect because government works just fine in other nations of the world. It is just that the US government seems doomed to drown in a puddle of its own inefficiencies unless something fundamental to the process is changed.

There have always been third parties. There are several third parties right now (parties 4, 5 & 6?) The system is rigged to only allow two parties to have any real power. Has been rigged since the Republicans rose to national prominence with the dissolution of the Whigs in 1854 over the question of slavery. This is the point that seems to be glossed over. It isn’t that I don’t care about third party politics. The system itself isn’t setup to recognize minority parties in any real way.  It has been codified and calcified over the course of 200 years to the point where, in certain states, it is all but illegal to be a member of any party aside from the Democrats and Republicans.  Third parties, minority parties, minority factions cannot alter the system because it is insulated from their efforts by layers of interference.

And still the question appears “how can anyone vote Democratic or Republican?” The answer is demonstrable; we vote for them because one of the two of them will win. One of the two of them will win because in the vast majority of races throughout history the political system in the US has been controlled by one of two dominant parties in the US.

Whoever the Libertarians nominate (or the Greens nominate) will lose again as they have in every previous election. They will lose because they aren’t Republicans or Democrats; which the rules at the national level and at the state level virtually guarantee will win all electoral races especially the president.

Running for President as a third party is a waste of time, worse it is a waste of resources which could be used to fund campaigns to change rules so that candidates who aren’t part of a party structure can compete. What we get from that investment of time and money is the exact same argument over and over again. Why are you voting for Democrats and Republicans?

First admit that there is a problem and that problem is the electoral rules themselves. Then fix that problem before doing anything else.

Go read Ballot Access News, edited by the magnificent Richard Winger. Top of the page today is a notification that a majority of seats in a particular state are unopposed. Tomorrow it will be a different state. Unopposed means the incumbent will be re-elected. It means no change. It means that the system will remain unaltered.  Why are the seats being handed to the incumbent?  Because ballot access is gated by a huge hurdle in nearly every state.  If the hurdle (be it signatures or party requirements) is topped, the next legislature will simply raise the bar for the next election.

The never asked question is why do Americans insist that voting by itself constitutes meaningful involvement in government? Voting is actually the very least we should be doing if we hope to ever live up to the promise of self-government. Why is the least we can possibly do that constitutes doing something considered active involvement in the political system?

If you concede that voting is not enough, and you should, then the question becomes how to make effective change in our government without reinventing it? The answer to that question is to co-opt an existing party and make it do what we want it to do.

This really isn’t news.  The religious right took over the Libertarian Party with Ron Paul as their nominee in 1980, and then shifted their support to Reagan and their membership to the Republican Party when Reagan invited them to move in and take over the GOP.  The religious right have been the motivating force behind party politics ever since, and were effective at getting their way politically until the election of Barak Obama in 2008.

Even President Obama has been forced to cater to the whims of the religious right, the whims of the minority party, modifying many of his programs specifically to accommodate demands made by them.

This lays bare the how of how to change politics for all to see.  Simply have enough agreement among the population who vote to effect change at the city, state, and national level.  But that agreement is the hard part, the part that requires attention long before you go into booth and cast your ballot.

Political veterans will tell you, it takes work. Years of work.  Which is how we got where we are today, people who went into politics with a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve have been co-opted and subverted by the process of hammering out agreement after agreement in decades of struggle with people who think differently.

Eventually you end up voting for a candidate that you really don’t agree with on any specific issue, but remains the best choice given the compromises required, hopefully not loosing sight of your overall goal in the process.  Not being able to see the forest because of all the trees.

Hillary Clinton is probably going to be that candidate for me. If you read back over this blog you’ll discover that I first abandoned the Libertarian Party to support Barak Obama so that he would be President instead of Hillary.  In 2016 I would vote for Hillary Clinton with almost no reservations.

I will be voting for whoever the Democratic party nominates in this election. I will be voting for the Democrat, because the Republican party has apparently gone over to the magical thinkers, and I don’t believe in magic.  The entirety of the Republican Party has been dispatched on a fool’s errand by the Tea Party’s co-option. Until they can figure out who they are and what they stand for, I don’t have the time of day for the party as a whole.  If they were to nominate someone like Governor Kasich I might have to revise my opinion of them, but I don’t see much chance of that, of Republicans being willing to compromise enough to embrace a man who supports the ACA.

I vote down ballot based on candidate qualities alone, discarding anyone who pretends at being the better conservative. These candidates generally win in Texas (because conservative=correct in the mind of the average Texas voter) outside of Austin, but you can’t fix any stupid aside from your own. In Austin the down ballot offices (state senate and legislature) are held by Democratic incumbents, usually running opposed only by independent candidates. The independents almost always get my vote, because I want to see change and you won’t get change from an incumbent.

But I’m still talking about voting, the last thing on the list.

The only way to change the system is to infiltrate the two parties and alter them from the inside, thereby altering the system they control. It has to start with ending gerrymandering and real campaign finance reform.  Opening up ballot access and ending party control of the ballots in every state in the nation. Not doing this will simply kick the can forward again. That is the forest that we must keep in sight, the big picture. Gerrymandering must be ended across the entire nation. Districts must be drawn blindly with no consideration of the political, racial or social strata that the people in the districts represent. Campaign finance must be addressed, or the corruption of our electoral process by the wealthy will continue in spite of any other change we might put in place.

Changing any of these fundamental corruptions of the system will take a long, hard effort. It will require canvassing of your local precincts to get a feel for who supports or doesn’t support these changes. It will take joining the local precinct and becoming involved, and bringing enough people along with you to alter the votes at the precinct level. It will take making sure that county gatherings and state conventions also support these measures.

Faction is why these rules, this corruption, has taken hold.  Madison was correct when he cited faction as one of the biggest threats to the Republic.  The Democrats are a faction. The Republicans are a faction. Third parties are all factions.  Faction leads generally sane people to do insane things like drawing districts to favor your party (gerrymandering. The solution? Redistricting commission) allowing contributions that favor your party over your opponent (campaign finance. The solution? Public funds) never taking into account that the practices you use to force the system to cater to your faction can be used to exclude your faction when power is finally wrested from you.

…and it will be wrested from you, eventually.

Wildly expanded Facebook comment and status post. It hopefully will expand even further.


Another complaint voiced during the 2016 primary season.

Allowing independents to vote in Democratic primaries would be like allowing non-union members to vote on union contracts. They want the benefits without having to bear the cost of joining.

Facebook

I agree in principle. The Democrats and the Republicans (as well as the Greens and Libertarians) should be able to say who is or is not a member of their group, who can most effectively carry their ideas forward.

The problem that independents have, and it is a valid concern, is that good candidates can emerge on the political landscape that don’t toe the line of any particular party. Those candidates should be able to appear on primary ballots in spite of not having a political affiliation. Not just for president and not just for independants. There needs to be an overhaul of the entire election process.

Until such time that the ballot is opened up to multiple views (jungle primaries, where ranked voting becomes a solution to a real problem) the voting public will have to be contented with exerting pressure on the parties to conform to popular views; and the only way that pressure can be applied effectively is from within the party.

Facebook comment and status backdated to the blog.

A political party — like it or not — is a continuing institution, an evolving body that reflects the convictions of its various members, and the organizers who keep the party functioning. For someone who is not a member of the party to demand changes … well, remember the story of the little red hen? “Who will help me plant my corn? Who will help me harvest my corn? Who will help me eat my corn?” If you’re not going to do the work, you don’t get a seat at the table.

David Gerrold

The Corrupting Influence of Faction

I was speaking yesterday with a group of European politicians, who expressed surprise at how “undemocratic” our presidential nominating process is. They pointed to:

1. The large percentage of “superdelegates” (political insiders) that will decide on the Democratic Party’s nominee.

2. The large number of primaries (such as the critical New York primary on April 19) that are closed to independents – even though there are more independents than registered Democrats or Republicans.

3. The increasing likelihood that the Republican convention will be “brokered” and that neither of the leading Republican candidates will emerge as the Republican nominee.

I explained that before the early 1970s, it was even worse; each party came up with its nominee in party conventions, without relying on the outcomes of primaries or caucuses.

“And we thought you were a democracy!” said one of my visitors.

What do you think?

Robert Reich
Amazon – the correct image, not the one Secretary Reich used.

The parties organized themselves outside of government as a way to control government to profit themselves. We were never a Democracy, and to the extent the parties have subverted the election process, we are that much less a Republic.

I have never been interested in living in a “dictatorship of the proletariat” no more fond of one dictator a thousand miles away than I am of a thousand dictators a mile a way. Democracy is and should be limited to the vote, the selection process of our representatives.

The parties should only endorse candidates that embody what the parties sees as their core principles. Should only embrace candidates that further the cause of the party. That is their purpose. The problem arises when the only candidates which can appear on the ballot are the candidates from the two parties. When the only candidate which can win belongs to one of the two parties.

The situation we find ourselves in now.

I don’t think the GOP should nominate Trump. The fact that he has won primaries has no bearing on his benefit to the party itself. His status as an outsider is detrimental to the party if they embrace him as a nominee, giving him power to set the course of the party for several years to come.

So too the Democrats should not embrace Bernie Sanders if they are not convinced that he would improve the prospects of the party. That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be on the ballot. That Trump shouldn’t be on the ballot. It means that the system as it currently exists is broken in ways that most people are only now beginning to understand. What is needed is to break loose from the calcium deposits that have formed around the structures of our government, and shake up the ways that our representatives are selected.

If you are dissatisfied that your candidate will not appear on the ballot, I say “it’s about time. Now roll up your sleeves and get to work” because it’s going to take a lot more than one election to fix this mess

What “Not in the Child’s Best Interest” Looks Like

This is the story of a three-year-old girl and the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is a legal battle that has entangled a biological father, a heart-broken couple, and the tragic history of Native American children taken from their families.


Radiolab, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, Thursday, May 30, 2013

This poor child is STILL being fought over. As the product of a broken home myself, I can only imagine what kind of damage this continuing political battle will have on the person she will become. Best interest of the child is really the only metric here. Politics should be left at the door.

#Benghazi, The Original Dumpster Fire

I said I really have nothing else to add to this when I posted this image on Facebook, but then I got pushback from a friend on it. Not just any friend, but someone I’ve shared dinner and drinks with, a real life (RL) friend. Yes, I actually have a life that isn’t on the ‘net. He didn’t like that I put up a meme that he didn’t agree with, and then didn’t add my two cents worth to top it off. I didn’t make him feel better for my having posted an image that he disagreed with.

There’s no point in embroidering on a concise thought, which is what the pictured meme image represents. Concise thinking on a specific subject. Either the snippet or image speaks for itself (and if I pass it on, it does for me) or it fails to pass the ‘concise’ test. If I’m expected to write a ten page essay on every subject that comes across my wall that I agree with, I would wear my fingers down typing and would very shortly following have no friends.

Obama is bringing all the heat on himself with his usual lack of transparency.

my RL friend

When I repost an image or a quote, it is not passing on “talking points” in my estimation; unless you are going to chalk up all political action to being transparent efforts to control the conversation on any given subject, from some central office somewhere that sets an agenda. If anything, using the phrase ‘lack of transparency’ marks someone as a FOX news watcher, someone absorbing ‘talking points’. I’ve never heard that phrase uttered in relation to Obama in any real sense outside of Republicans claiming that amongst the various other crazy characterizations like “socialist”, etc.

Obama is as transparent as any other president has been. He is as centrist as every president who served before him has been. His centrist nature is why liberals don’t like him very much.

I’m loathe to accept the accusation that I am “taking a side” (especially on the subject at hand) It’s pretty cut and dried what is or isn’t legal, in a general sense. I will say Obama has committed crimes. It’s a near impossibility for a modern sitting President to not do so, considering just how far outside the Constitutional parameters our current government is. The fact is, and I’ve said this since Obama took office, that his performance as President has been exceptional in comparison to the last three Presidents; better than all of them combined, in my estimation.

Which is why the bullshit thrown up over Benghazi rings even more false than most of the accusations thrown at the man. It was trumped up from the beginning, and the likeliest reason for his silence is because Benghazi was a secret CIA location and he cannot speak about it. Something that the leadership in the House and Senate would know he has to be silent about, so they know they can whale away on him over it, and not fear retaliation. A CIA rendition site, something that the Republican leadership would actually be in favor of were he a Republican president, thereby making it hypocrisy.

If anything Obama is too passive, too willing to compromise, domestically. He’s too close to being right of center as is to be able to make anything other than a step to the left a betrayal of his own base. And yet he steps to the right time and time again, and is rewarded for that with even more vitriol from his political opponents on the right.

Lack of transparency? How about the three times Bush was warned that attacks were planned using domestic airliners, but got left out of the 911 report? The WMD that they never admitted was a complete shell game? The torture that they still won’t admit was torture? There was never an accounting that matches what the President has been put through over the one embassy attack he had to deal with. How many hearings were held dealing with the multiple embassy attacks on Bushes watch? Why aren’t they all serving long jail sentences, as they should be?

…Well I guess we can blame that last one on Obama. I’d put him in jail right next to the others, but they get to go first. I resent the casting of #Benghazi as if there are multiple truths, as if there are two versions of fact. As if the deaths of thousands of people amounts to nothing more than another sports event with a contested outcome. As if the Iraq war (not 9/11) W’s real crime, in any way, shape or form resembles a single embassy attack on Obama’s watch.

Specifically I resent the insinuation that I am so lax in my thinking as to use Fahrenheit 9/11 as a reference for news and fact. There is a detailed timeline before and after the events of 9-11 in Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War, a book I’ve recommended countless times already, outlining the number of times that the President, his staff, and congress were advised that there were credible threats to the US, including attacks from the air using our own aircraft. They ignored all of them, and it was stated at the time that it would take an event similar to what happened on 9-11 to wake them up to the threat.

What I am suggesting by sharing the image is that this outpouring of rage at Obama over #Benghazi is nothing more than another FOX-lead,conservative-backed hatchet job on the President. That if suspicions are born out, what we will discover was that there was a secret CIA black site there, and that CIA bungled the security. That the pretense that one man can juggle all the information concerning the running of a beast the size of the federal government is itself a fantasy.

The outrage is false, because the motivation is false. It started with the conservatives hypocritically opposing the President first on doing nothing while the Libyan revolution (and the Arab spring) started, then opposing his move to protect the civilians there, then opposing the move to let NATO handle it and remove ourselves from control of the situation (as if we could control it) and when the embassy attack occurred, the conservatives pounced on that horse and rode it to town, convinced they finally had the vehicle to take Obama down. False, from beginning to end.

My willingness to see Obama imprisoned (mentioned above) relates directly to his negligence of duty to the laws of the US which he pledged to uphold and defend; his failure to prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes, his failure to prosecute Wall Street for their frauds and money laundering, his failure to end the Bush era war crimes and in fact increase the level of criminality by using the military under the guidance of the CIA to attack citizens within nations that we are not at war with.

Real crimes, in other words, not make believe incidents fabricated in the minds of Conservative/Republican leaders who simply want their power back so that they can continue to do what Obama is doing now. Do what he’s doing and do more of it to boot. That is the true falsity and hypocrisy of #Benghazi. And I’m almost ashamed to call someone who falls for this kind of crap a friend.

An argument I had on Facebook during the #Benghazi dumpster fire reposted to the blog. 
BTW, GOP House Intel Committee Report – No Obama Benghazi Wrongdoing

DRM: Who’s Rights are They?

The announcement from Universal last week brought up the subject of DRM, a sore spot for me and most of the people who listen to online music. But you would think that it had been smooth sailing for all these online years, if you believed the arguments that I’ve seen over the last week.

Napster and it’s overseas descendants aren’t and never were a problem, MP3.com wasn’t virtually hounded off the ‘net for daring to exercise fair use, DRM is a completely logical exercise of the rights holders over copyrighted material, which presents no problems to the end users who purchase the material.

…And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you.

First off, let’s get a few definitions straight. The term piracy, as it is used in software circles these days, is a completely unworkable definition. Piracy involves profiting through theft, not copying files. While it can be argued that the end user ‘profits’ from copying files that he has not paid for, that sort of profiting is in a whole different league from the person who sells CDs and DVDs (and even the computer files themselves) that he’s made without license from the copyright holder. However, there is no distinction between the two in the eyes of Microsoft (and the other corporate software vendors) the RIAA and the MPAA; a completely ridiculous proposition on the face of it.

Then there is the term contract, in which the software industry claims their EULAs and online contracts are no different than a printed, signed and witnessed contract of a truly legal nature. However, if you trotted out the verbiage contained in the average EULA, I doubt you’d find many people willing to commit to the agreement, since the agreement invariably holds the software company innocent of any possible wrongdoing, while setting up a legal fence around the user so as to tightly constrain what uses the material can be put to.

Here is a piece of timely advice; never sign a contract that has been written by an attorney other than one in your employ without first having an attorney who is in your employ look it over. Contracts are always negotiable by both parties if they are to be considered valid. When you sign your name to a contract you agree to the terms, thereby waiving your right to negotiate terms in advance. A EULA does not allow for physical signatures and so consequently are not really contracts at all.

Additionally, any contract that you have to accept without negotiation is a contract that no one should hold themselves constrained by, since they had no say in what the exact contents of the contract would be.

Now when it comes to EULA’s I have to ask; Do you support the dishonest business practice of attempting to hold a customer to a contract that isn’t presented until after the transaction has taken place, or are you an honest businessman who presents the contract before any other business occurs? Anyone who thinks that it is commonplace and acceptable to withhold conditions of a sale until after the transaction has taken place is by definition a dishonest businessman. Honesty requires full disclosure before the sale. Restrictions that are revealed after the sale is finalized are not enforceable, as they are generally held to be outside of current law, and are a violation of the standard of full disclosure. In a nutshell, it is a dishonest and/or fraudulent business practice to withhold this type of information.

With the above as the generally understood standard of doing business, that contracts which I have not explicitly agreed to in writing are not binding, and that contracts that are not revealed until after the sale is finalized are not enforceable…

…Should I be faulted for holding the opinion that “All sales are final. The files are mine. Anything they have to say about my treatment of my files after that point is a claim. There is no agreement, other than cash for music files. There was no other legal contract presented.” and stripping the DRM from files that I had paid for and wished to listen to on a device of my choosing?

Apparently I am to be faulted. At least in the eyes of the people who plan on making money off of the legally clueless out there.

Fair use allows the user to make copies of copyrighted material for his own use. My own use requires that I strip the DRM from music files sold on most popular websites. If the websites attempted to enforce the contract terms, they would only alienate their customer base; ergo, it is nothing more than a paper tiger, never to be enforced except to remove individual user accounts.

…And if I can’t actually make the files usable, I don’t know why I would need an account in the first place.

The last definition that needs clarification: DRM, Digital Rights Management. The corporations that own the content have rights (which DRM manages) but you the user don’t. You have privileges that they can take away if they please. Welcome to the digital millennium.

My experience with the difficulty of using iTunes (and other DRM restricted services) has convinced me that DRM regimes are soon to be a thing of the past. It’s also convinced me that I will spend money on sites that don’t add DRM to the files. Sites like Sound Click for example. I don’t need to go to full out piracy sites (I find real pirates and their practices quite distasteful) I have no problem going down to the used CD store and getting the music I’m looking for at less than the dollar a song most sites are charging. I might download songs from Universal’s announced site, but only if I can remove the DRM.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem. The only way to make DRM enforceable is to appoint an ultimate Sys-Admin, a company that has the power to open back doors on all the computers currently in operation, and snoop through the files to make sure that no one is using files that they haven’t paid for. A job that Microsoft desperately wants to be given, as they quite eagerly pointed out when they announced the rollout of Longhorn (now Vista) two or three years ago. A big brother situation that I shudder to contemplate.

Otherwise DRM is an unworkable solution in the long term. As more content becomes available on the ‘net, more and more of it will appear shortly after it’s initial release with DRM, sans it’s protective wrapper, ready to be copied by anybody who doesn’t have an aversion to dealing with pirates.

Might as well just come up with a different solution now, save us all the hassle.

It’s Not a Free Country Anymore

This will not be published until the case is settled; so if you are just now reading it then don’t be too upset for my predicament. The events described are well in the past, and I waited this long to publish for legal reasons. This was the first post I wrote on the blogger edit interface, nearly fifteen years ago today. The wife convinced me that I shouldn’t make this my first post. She has always been more cautious than I am. “Let sleeping dogs lie” she told me. Let them lie until you are beyond their reach. Fifteen years should be long enough.


I see the cop’s flashlight beam from across the street hesitate on the expired inspection sticker on my windshield. Bicycle cops using a 4th street traffic jam as an excuse to run a impromptu checkpoint. Make a few bucks in fines for the city. Captive audience with no place to go. I move forward a few car lengths, and I have a brief moment of hope that perhaps they have better things to do tonight. But no, there is a tap on my window, and the traffic is stopped again.

I have tried and failed to get the car inspected 3 times in the previous week. I’ve only been driving this car for that amount of time. Before that it was The Wife’s car. I suggested she get the car inspected, a loathsome Texas ritual, several times over the course of the more than a year that the sticker in the windshield has been out of date. Now the lapsed inspection sticker is my problem. None of the mechanics that I frequent seem to want to be punished for improper inspections that they aren’t allowed to profit from, so they don’t want to inspect old cars. State inspections now require carbon monoxide metering equipment, equipment which must be maintained and adjusted to work properly. So here I am with an expired inspection sticker visible on the windshield, stuck in traffic, about to have a memorable encounter with a police officer.

I had just called The Wife and told her I would be by to pick her up shortly. It’s the big weekend of Austin Film Festival, Saturday night on 5th Street. Lots of parties to hobnob with movie types and wanna be movie types are occurring all around town. This is probably why 6th street is closed, and traffic is at a standstill on the neighboring streets. Tourists and investors are in town for the big weekend. She got a AFF Producer’s badge for her birthday, and has been enjoying herself immensely all week. Tonight she’s partying, and needs a ride home. I didn’t see the problem with that. Told her I’d be right down to pick her up.

I hate driving downtown. Everyone downtown has a corncob up their ass, and they’re always in lemming-like flight to get wherever they should have been 5 minutes ago. I get confused easily these days, with the disorientation and the tinnitus. I take wrong turns, I drive too slowly; basically, I get in everyone’s way. So I don’t go downtown unless I have to.

Another tap at the window, this one much harder. Clearly, he’s expecting an answer. Checking that the doors are locked, I crack the window and ask, in my usual manner “may I help you”. The words are “may I help you”, but the tone is clear that I would prefer not to be of help. I’ve been perfecting that double entendre for years. I probably should have stuck to “what” or “Yes Officer”. I might actually have answered “yes”, which is my other favorite. Yes, which clearly sounds like “No”. Again, not a wise move.

His response was “What do you mean, can I help you? Your inspection sticker is two years out of date.”

That annoyed me. It’s not two years out of date. Admittedly, the second anniversary of the cars last inspection is rapidly approaching two years, but it hasn’t been two years yet. I respond with a negative. “It’s hasn’t been two years yet.” Oh, that’s bad. It’s about to get worse.

He’s blunt again. “Gimme your license and insurance.”

Gimme. That’s not even a word. Is please too much to ask? Stupid question. Oh well. I grab my wallet off the passenger seat (where it generally is these days, sciatica doesn’t respond well to objects in the back pockets) and proceed to get my driver’s license.

Another directive. “Pull over onto these tracks and get out of the car”

OK. Now there’s a problem. All along the street, in about 4 places so far, are signs warning you not to drive on the tracks. My car has just had new tires put on, and I’ve spent the better part of a month’s income getting the front end aligned and the brakes done, in preparation of getting it inspected. There are huge (and I mean, huge) city titties along the driving side of the tracks. On top of all this, there is a temporary barricade very close to being parallel to the front of my car. I know the road widens ahead. Pull on the tracks? No, it’s illegal, it’s barely possible, and I might damage my car. Can I pull ahead instead? I get as far as “I can’t drive on the tracks, it’s illegal. There’s a sign back there…”

He said “that’s enough of that” and opened the door. I panicked. The door was supposed to be locked. I checked it. I wasn’t even sure he was a cop until he started talking in his cop voice. I reflexively grabbed for the door handle and tried to pull the door closed. He then said “Oh, you are not going to do that!” and grabbed my arm, pulling my upper body out of the car. Mind you, the car is still in gear, and my feet are on the clutch and brake. If I let my feet off the pedals, the car will surge forward, injuring me and the police officer. So I wedge myself into the seat and hope someone will either let go, or take the car out of gear. I can’t take the car out of gear, because now they have both hands.

Lucky for all of us, one of the cops says “I think the car is still in gear” I don’t remember much else for a bit, because they pepper sprayed me while I was preventing them from getting us all injured, holding the clutch down. I might have popped the clutch at the last minute. I don’t remember. What I do remember is one of the guys stepped on me to get into the car. After they were sure the car wasn’t going anywhere, they dragged me across the pavement for a bit so they could get the handcuffs on. I do remember that I still had my wallet in my hand, because trying to do something with it got me pepper sprayed a second time, and so I just dropped the wallet on the ground.

After they picked me up and set me on a curb, the police officer who started this whole mess had the gall to ask me “why did you do that?” Which struck me as ironic, since I hadn’t done anything. I was bruised, pepper-blinded and handcuffed on a curb because of my not doing whatever it was he was asking me to do. This was a question I could well have asked him. Hell, I probably did ask him amongst all the subsequent cursing.

I’ll freely admit to harsh language on the curb. Before the curb, it was “What are you doing?”, “I haven’t done anything!” and “get off me!” After the curb, the language was much more blue. I demanded badge numbers. Pointless, since I couldn’t write anything down with my hands cuffed. I told them I was going to sue all of them. Everyone handcuffed and bleeding says that. I shouted “police brutality” a few times. People walking by laughed. Schadenfreude. In the end “I just want to go home” is all I would say in response to any inquiry. Some wiseguy must have triggered on that, because they started talking amongst themselves, then one of them came over and asked me “You do know you are under arrest, right?” I’m sitting on a curb, handcuffed and bleeding after being physically dragged out of my car. There are no secrets to be revealed in this predicament. It is kind of obvious now that I’ve been arrested. It would have been nice if they had said that phrase earlier. It would have made a difference.

Had I been informed I was being arrested, I would have simply taken the car out of gear and exited the vehicle. Since I had not been informed that I was under arrest until I was sitting on a curb, handcuffed and bleeding, I’m not sure how it could be said I resisted arrest. That didn’t stop them from charging me with resisting arrest, when the time came.

They also threw in the nugget failure to comply with a lawful order which has the added bonus of getting me tried in two courts, since the resist charge is a county level offense, and the failure charge is municipal offense. You gotta make sure to grease all those palms with fines. Can’t have the state of Texas or Travis county go hungry. They need their blood money too. You, the arresting officer, need to make sure the poor, disadvantaged, disabled sap you’ve just abducted from his car on the way to pick up his wife from a party he told her to go to has to waste as much of his, her, their time as you can get from them since failure to appear is how most of the return visits to the county lockup are generated.

The order to pull onto the railroad tracks wasn’t lawful, and since I wasn’t given the chance to produce my identification while being dragged bodily from my car, I don’t know what basis in fact there was for that charge either. But they charged with that, too.

The officer was sure to shout his justification in my face, during the curbside encounter. “If I tell you to do it, it’s a lawful order!” I said, with no qualms of my being wrong on this, “Bullshit.” He could very well have just had someone pull over onto the tracks before I got there. The police report says they did, that they had been running a lawful checkpoint when they encountered me.

I don’t know about lawful checkpoint. I saw four guys gossiping on the side of the road, one with a flashlight. It looked like they might have been cops and it turned out that they were. Four large men, hopped up on adrenaline, having just broke up a near-riot on sixth street. So they were looking for trouble and found some in a middle aged former CAD guru with Meniere’s disease. What a score for them.

What they were engaging in didn’t look like an active checkpoint. Shooting the shit with buddies you were just cracking heads with rarely looks like organization of any kind. What it meant, if they did order someone onto the tracks before me and he followed directions, was that the last guy didn’t want to get cuffed and arrested. Probably a smart move, but not exactly the basis for a telling argument for giving a lawful order. If a cop tells you to shoot someone it’s not a lawful order. There are laws contradicting his order. So too with moving violations. The order was unlawful, because it was contrary to posted rules. Had I driven onto the tracks, and then they arrested me, they could have easily said that I had committed a moving violation, just like if in pulling me out of my car they caused the car to run into another car, that moving violation would have been my fault as well. That charge would have held up in court, just like the other two.

This police report is an excellent work of fiction, I say as I sit looking at it. A tale worthy of any number of police dramas on television. The perpetrator locked his hands in the wheel. The perpetrator refused multiple requests that he exit the vehicle. I say again, with feeling, Bullshit. Of course, I won’t discover the fiction these cops have crafted for me to participate in for three or four days, on the day when my first court date is set. That’s all later on. Much later on.

Right now, I’m going to jail. The EMT’s show up at some point and rinse my face. They were in the area, so stopped by. They were the first people to tell me that pepper spray can’t be washed off. It can be washed off. Dawn dishwashing liquid takes it right off. I found that out later, too. Then the police cruiser shows up and parks right in the spot I wanted to pull over to. The spot with no tracks and no signs saying don’t pull over here. That figures. Then comes the lovely and entertaining ride to the county jail. I get to ride in a paddywagon next to vomiting drunks. This is just the first in a long list of experiences that could not be over quick enough but yet went on all night long.

After the lovely transportation experience comes the 8 plus hour wait in the drunk tank for processing. I’ve been told I was lucky. The stay in the tank can amount to days sometimes. Days I hear you say? Why days? Because they can wait that long. What does that expense amount to? No idea.

Did I mention the sciatica? No, I only mentioned the Meniere’s. Try sitting for 8 hours, staring at a wall, while a knife slowly cuts into the back of your leg. I call that inhumane torture, myself. The sitting is enforced. I tried to stand any number of times, because standing takes the pressure off the nerve that is being pinched, but I was always told promptly to “sit”. There were plenty of badges around to keep you in your place, but apparently not enough hands to shorten 15 minutes worth of ID-ing from the 8 hours that it took.

Why would you want to do that? Speed things up? We’re all guilty in there, anyway. The medic who looked at my cuts and bruises made that perfectly clear, if the cops who brought me to the drunk tank hadn’t made it clear previously. “What are you doing downtown tonight Mr. Steele?” “Picking up my wife” “Had anything to drink” “No” “So, you just came downtown to drive around, eh?”

Apparently picking up my wife wasn’t a good enough reason to drive around. I have Meniere’s disease. Looking drunk is what I look like on a good day. It’s frequently what I drive like too, which is why I don’t do much driving. “I wish I hadn’t been driving”, I tell her. I made sure she noted all the lacerations. She also told me I couldn’t wash off the pepper spray, so I wore it for the full time I was there.

Speaking of The Wife. She wandered all over downtown Austin, trying to find me. After about 3 hours, she gave up and hired a car to take her home. She then proceeded to call the police and hospitals. It wasn’t until she tried to file a missing person’s request that the police admitted that they had arrested me. For my part, I couldn’t call her. My cell phone rang while they were cataloging my property. It was The Wife. I’d already been told that I was going to be charged with a felony if I picked the phone back up off the table.

Charge me with a felony! For not being willing to violate a law posted on a sign in clear view from my vehicle, based solely on a cop’s order. If I disobeyed an order again I would be charged with a felony. Well, fine. When I asked if I could please answer the phone? I was told no, I could use the phones in the tank. That was yet another lie. There were no phones I could use except the ones they had confiscated from me and the drunks I was brought in with. They did activate a phone line for my one phone call, but you can’t call cell phones from detention so I couldn’t call the Wife who was on her cell phone calling me just moments previously. Can’t call cell phones? Nope. You can’t call them at all. It simply wasn’t something their system was set up to allow for. I’m the only person I know that still maintains a landline, so I was luckily able to call my house and talk to someone. But that was the only time I spoke to anyone who wasn’t talking to a perpetrator until I was released.

I don’t think I can say enough about the phones. It’s criminal. There is no functional way to communicate from within Travis County jail. They inexplicably take your cell phone from you when they put you in the tank, and then tease you with phones that won’t call 90% of the phones in use today. If, like me, you’ve had poor saps trapped in prison misdialing your number for weeks on end, and you’ve had your number blocked by the completely useless company that services the completely useless prison phones, then you can’t even call your own house collect. What is the reason for confiscating cell phones? We’re allowed to make calls. They made me take the cash out of my wallet and keep it. But I couldn’t keep my cell phone. Does this make any sense?

Just let me keep my phone. Better yet, just process me and let me go.

Then there’s the tank itself. It’s dirty, smelly, and freezing. I was only brave enough to go in the restroom once, and I couldn’t bring myself to drink anything or use the facilities at all. Gross doesn’t begin to describe everything about the place. From the dripping fluid all over the restroom to the baby blue vinyl covered foam benches, to the indescribable mess on the floor and the smell of the place. And the freezing cold. Did I mention it was cold?

But there was a TV. You couldn’t watch it from the seats in the tank itself because you’d break your neck looking up at it, and there was no sound that I could hear with my half-deaf ears. For hours we sat there, staring at an equally disgusting baby blue wall that needed to be repainted some other color about ten years previously. The only entertainment to be had was the occasional fistfight. I witnessed four fistfights that night. I saw more fights that night than I’d seen in a decade of working in nightclubs. I think I saw three in clubs, and they caused less damage to the participants. Bouncers are a bit more concerned about the health of bar patrons than cops are for the perps they’ve arrested.

Three of the fights were started by the same guy that they kept insisting on putting back in the tank, where he would start another fight. He eventually was locked up in isolation, which was probably what he wanted in the first place.

We were all perps anyway. We’re all guilty, right? When I stood up on the back deck of the paddy wagon, arms trussed up behind me, did anyone remember that I was disabled? Had bouts of vertigo? No, of course not. I had to shout it two or three times “I’m dizzy, I’m going to fall!” before someone helped me down off the deck. They don’t give a shit. Why should they?

At about 8 am, having delayed processing as long as they possibly can, they take us to see the judge. Now it’s time to start making us look like convicts. They herded us in groups into the next room, and then had us go into private rooms to change into prison clothes, and then we were assigned cells for our stay in the pokey. I could finally stop carrying the couple of hundred dollars in cash in my pocket, sitting next to people who probably don’t have that much in the bank, one of them a guy just looking to start a fight over nothing, much less cash. Repeatedly. I might have finally been able to sleep. If there had been a pillow in the cell, or a real mattress. There wasn’t, and I can’t sleep laying flat anyway. Vertigo sets in when I start to drift off. So I dozed. I had now been up for more than 24 hours.

At about 10 am, they take us before the judge, properly attired in our prison grays. Guilty before being proven innocent, in all but name. It’s just magistration, they tell us. We all listen to a lengthy speech about rights and representation, and answer one question, and then back to our cells we go.

No, the question was not about guilt. We’re wearing prison grays. Is there a question here? The question was about representation. The judicial system is administered by lawyers for lawyers. Representation is important, in the situation we found ourselves in, me and my fellow perpetrators.

So we go back our cozy cells to wait on our bond results. If you get bonded, that’s your get out of jail card. If you don’t, you get to remain in the Travis County justice system’s gentle care for as long as it takes for your case to resolve. I was one of the lucky ones. I was out around noon. 12 hours of torture, in every sense of the word, and I’m a free man. Well, freer than I was in any of the last twelve hours. Poorer now, too. Someone has to pay that bond.

It took months for the case to be resolved, months I could have spent in the county jail without someone posting a bond for me. The attorney I hired advised me to settle out of court. This is what all attorneys tell you. Plead nolo contendere and take whatever the court offers you in exchange for not demanding a jury trial. The system is set up to facilitate plea-bargaining, not courtroom dramas.

I wanted a jury trial. That’s what I wanted. I wanted my day in court. But the attorney was right. I would have lost. I’ve watched enough injustice play out since the day this happened to me to know this is true whether I like it or not. Cops get away with murder. Cops routinely get away with murder because prosecutors don’t want to prosecute them. Cops get away with murder because juries believe them rather than believe any normal citizen, even one that hasn’t done anything to be sitting in court that day. They were going to believe the fiction that my arresting officers had written up as evidence, not me and my picture of a sign saying “do not drive on train tracks”.

So what I got was nolo contendere and ten hours of community service, all of which I gave to the local humane shelter. I liked the dogs more than I liked anyone I encountered on that night. I should have told the Wife to take a cab home. I should have told her that, because she ended up in a cab anyway and the cab ride was much, much cheaper. So are the inspection stickers that I get right on time now. Right on time. Don’t want no trouble, boss. I’m trying to keep my nose clean, sir.


While sitting on the curb that night, chatting with my abductors, it all came home to me. One of them told me “driving is a privilege” in response to my insistence that an inspection sticker was hardly a justification for this situation.

In Texas, driving is not a privilege, it’s a necessity. Pretending that you can make a living without access to a vehicle is a complete joke. You can’t make a living without a car in Texas. You can survive, but just barely survive. You cannot be more than impoverished and homeless in Texas without a car. Everything from the grocery store to the school your children attend can only be accessed by motor vehicle. You take your life in your own hands, walking on Texas roads. Nonsense like “Vehicle Inspection” just puts a further burden on people living on the margins; especially when keeping your vehicle in working order is more important to you and your continued livelihood than it can ever be to the state.

Most often the lack of an inspection sticker is used like it was used on me. It is an excuse for a fishing expedition to look for other fines that can be collected, other crimes that can be booked. But the car starts just fine without an inspection sticker, and the kids need to be fed more than the car needs that sticker. Before you know it, two years pass, and you’re face down in the street with four cops kneeling on your back putting you in handcuffs. Sure, now it looks stupid not to get that $25 sticker. Spending hours looking for a shop to do an inspection, and then spending hours waiting for an inspection seems pretty insignificant in comparison. Silly me, I never thought to prioritize demands based on the relative amount of torture one must endure; as opposed to, say, how much joy I get from it.

At the end of the little curbside chat session, when the question “Why did you do that?” was repeated, I said “I thought I lived in a free country” I was emphatically told by the (now) arresting officer “No, it’s not!” He was being a sarcastic prick when he said that, but no truer words have ever been spoken by any man. It’s time to sing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant, and walk out now. The observation is even more true today when I finally hit publish on this piece (January 22, 2019) than in was back in 2005 when it happened. We don’t live in a free country, and it’s getting a lot less freer with each passing minute.