Motorcade to Miranda

I don’t know any Secret Service agents, do you? So I wonder: Are Trump’s protectors scratching their heads here, or are they constipated by commitment, courage, and back-up plans? 

On the drive over from Trump Tower, were any lost in the mind-expansion of checking corners for blind spots vs. bail bondsmen?

During the arraignment itself, in that crowded corridor and beyond, was a kaleidoscope of Law & Order characters among the jailers, journalists, U.S. Marshals, FBI, Trump staffers, lawyers, indicted officeholders, real estate groupies, and celebrity gossipers. So many doors, so many suits and ties! How were they able to tell the cops from the crooks or the Bozo’s from the Serpicos? 

What did their earpieces confirm, that Agent Larry had just cracked, stripping off his suit like a Chippendale to sing atop one of the bulletproof Escalades?

And all that standing around time! Were agents eavesdropping on slouchy beat cops, lipreading for lunch ideas? Did Hernandez show up sportin’ floods again? Best thousand-yard stare anyone? Was Trump’s close knit group of operatives ostracized by ordinary officers?

Between the badges, body armor, and batons, who coveted whose utility belts? Was there insecurity among the tactically secure? How were female personnel able to withstand this gravity crushing, time-bending black hole of mansplaining?

What sabotaged the straightfaced? In this patriotastic vortex of professional protectors, how did the jokers keep from messing with their workmates? Who elbowed their neighbor when the Lieutenant gave in and scratched his balls? Who sneezed when the former President walked by? Who wondered if their, a-hem, secret “service” smelled as badly as they feared?

Were there convos on contradictions among Trump’s bullet-catchers? Would any admit to being curious about consequences for the rich and well-connected?

As each who swore an oath to “protect and defend” stood by their professional honor and obligations, how many feared an impending end to what inspired their pledge?

Finally, with all that heavyweight allegiance to law and order, what were their excuses for any lack of curiosity?

All images:


2022 Excuse of the Year: Doubling Down

Putting out fire with fire –mentally mitigating a bad choice with bad choices 2, 3, and 4– is Where Excuses Go to Die’s “Excuse of 2022.”

Our new Counter-Enlightenment American Moral Culture confuses foot-stomping with tenacity and self-congratulatory ethics with fairness. Personally, I see an inhospitable ocean of tangled and misled self-interest. Here are but a few examples that exclude Kanye, Elon, Putin, and Maggie Haberman.

• LA City Council member Kevin DeLeon ––scandalized, despised, and stigmatized–– refuses to relinquish his seat despite leaked audio of his racist views, calls for his resignation, recall attempts, walk-outs by fellow council members upon his arrival at meetings, and now physical altercations with constituents protesting his occupancy. Me, I see a double down that reveals a man-child in need of attention, mistaking that attention for position and position for integrity.  

• Referring to Maricopa County’s election system, Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake recently told a Turning Point USA gathering, “I’m not going to just knock that house of cards over. We’re going to burn it to the ground.” Me, I see a person mistaking craven for inspiring and populist for decent. 

• Like someone in sneakers on an ice rink, newly minted Republican Congressman-elect George Santos seems to be slipping all over career freezing contradictions regarding his claims of Jewish-Ukrainian lineage, his alleged descent from Holocaust survivors, his education, his employment history (is anything this guy claims true??). Backed into a corner, his accounts and renditions are all over the explanatory map. Here, I see a double down on par with a prison snitch or at minimum a proud citizen of the The United States Of Until You Get Caught.

• Tanner Horner, a FedEx driver with no previous criminal history, recently backed his delivery van into 7-year-old Athena Strand on or near the driveway of her family’s home. Reportedly, she was not seriously injured, but Horner later admitted to authorities that he’d “panicked” and pulled the girl into his van, killing her to keep her from telling her dad. And as if choosing to cover up vehicular negligence with murder isn’t bad enough, Horner is now also facing three unrelated charges of sexual assault of a minor. So I think we all see the double down of extraordinarily poor decision making happening here.

I admit these example are blousy, media-driven, and bat-shit. But when’s the last time you doubled-down, say, while driving? Maybe you made a lane change with a little less room than you thought you had, and you got honked at in return. I’m sure a bunch of you Ghandis out there just ignored that honk, but those of us who aren’t so evolved may have middle-fingered our way into some version of payback.

Who among us hasn’t, at some point, admitted to ourselves or others, “I don’t know what I was thinking”? Who hasn’t heard themselves trying to justify a solution that was worse than the problem? Who hasn’t doubled down? For that matter, who hasn’t experienced dismay over a double-down that’s backfired? The darker side of doubling down can be quite humbling.

I’m certainly guilty of going too far in the name of saving face. When it came back to haunt me, my guilt, ego, principles, good intentions, and a bunch of other things all collided to cause an embarrassing end result, one in which my credibility drained at my feet. With nothing I could do to stop it and no wealth to throw at it, only anger remained –which guaranteed a bad end.

We’ve all put ourselves through this sawmill. And while individual results clearly vary, doubling down is the Excuse of the Year because of how far we’ve taken it, or where, in this entitled age of poor coping skills, it has taken us.



Open Thank You to Author-Historian, Mike Davis

Dear Mike,

I moped for a minute when I learned of your esophageal cancer and transition to quality of life care, then swiveled from the keyboard to my view of downtown Los Angeles. It’s a romantic, rent controlled, southeast panorama you might appreciate, stretching from Griffith Park all the way to wonderful, ill-favored Vernon. As the street elevation rises, this 96-year-old brownstone is a last stop before the Tesla Hills, allowing me to joke about living “at the feet of the snobs.”

Mike Davis at the Los Angeles Sixth Street Viaduct Entrance

It seems fitting writing you on a 104° day, but despite my window capturing so much of LA’s heat dome, it isn’t big enough to hold my gratitude for raising your critical theorist’s fist high in the air.

Thank you, Mike, for City of Quartz, a treasure of tormented topographies and asshole suits. That book warned me of “lurking cyber-fascism” at a time when “cyber” seemed strictly limited to William Gibson. While I admittedly struggled to understand some of it, it still felt like holding a road flare. 

My dawning awareness of the “spatial apartheid” of private and pseudo-public spaces through the lens of LA redevelopment –Bunker Hill and Century City most alarmingly– was as perception-altering as any figurative burning bush I’ve encountered. Although to me, your work is more akin to witnessing a burning bank.

And thank you for that Ecology of Fear chapter, “Beyond Blade Runner.” What a fun and horrifying read! There’s no better narration of the ominous social organization of urban environments. Your all-too brief look at Columbia Savings and Loan CEO Thomas Spiegel’s office-turned-Alamo-war-bunker alone was worth the 1998 dollars I spent to own a copy. I imagine you smiling as you wrote it, so here’s where I’ll also thank you for your humor. It runs rampant through your darkest of examinations of anti-utopia. No, you’re not exactly known for Chavez Ravine zingers, but to those who say Mike Davis isn’t funny I ask, uh, “In Praise of Barbarians,” anyone? Also, I call you oppressors. 

6th St. Viaduct pre-2016 Demolition • Author Photo

Speaking of oppression, thank you, Mike, for affirming that my indignant rejection of bread and circuses is neither sick nor wrong. I’ve faced the fallout from questioning mass consumption since my fellow sixth graders were writhing and squealing over Rod Stewart’s 1978 radio hit, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (gross, no). 

Further, thank you for corroborating –in spirit at least– that it isn’t mentally deranged to envision oneself dying a worthy death at the hands of the state. Try explaining that one to the nuns (and then family therapists). 

Thank you, Mike Davis, for wondering aloud why the American working class has no political party of its own.

Thank you for inspiring me to graduate from my post-punk, Generation X naiveté by revealing enemies far more insidious than Daryl F. Gates, Tipper Gore, and Pete Wilson.

Finally, thank you for whatever input you had in choosing LA’s Metropolitan Detention Center as the City of Quartz cover photo: I read a copy machine bundle of the LA Weekly’s lengthy excerpt of the book during my stay at MDC, as well as while confined to the modules of Men’s Central Jail. You connected me to resistance, yes, and to municipal and policy wrongdoing, which were helpful to my understanding of the city I love. You insisted I learn civic responsibility, too. But finding MDC on that cover just as I was learning the value of human endorsement no less than anointed my own pencil-on-yellow-legal-pad observations. As a pretrial prisoner facing the wake-up call of a lifetime, your work made me feel recognized. What I and those around me endured at the hands of our LA Sheriff’s jailers was authenticated by the presence of that image.

Goodbye and thank you Mike Davis, Urban Theorist–Activist–Scholar, for this lump in my throat.
Mine is just one of the many Los Angeles minds you’ve enlivened.


Mike Davis Bio


UPDATE: 10/26/2022

Mike Davis • March 10, 1946 – October 25, 2022

Mike Davis, ‘City of Quartz’ author who
chronicled the forces that shaped L.A., dies 


The Supreme Court: Operationalized

“Follow the money” applies to everything, most of all to Supreme Court Justices.

CAR GUY 101: knowing the parts in the machine –any machine– is essential to comprehending how it can be affected by the elements.

I just took in this excellent piece by the award-winning publisher of “The Hightower Lowdown,” Jim Hightower. The guy is funny, and I wish I could say it made me laugh. It didn’t. But it did offer me insight that went beyond what I already knew about SCOTUS, and it reminds me to take less pleasure in the disintegration of norms and barometers (which laughs tend to abet).

The notorious “Powell Memo” (a.k.a. “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System”) was drafted in 1971 by Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and it’s a good example of something about which I knew previously zilch. Yet from it, Hightower notes, SCOTUS’ current conservative majority has drawn, uh, major inspiration.

In keeping with the period, corporate attorney Powell was not unlike Robert Duvall’s Godfather character, Tom Hagen, head lawyer for the Corleone family. As a Phillip Morris board member, Powell’s own “family” was Big Tobacco. In fact he represented the Tobacco Institute, the notorious research arm of the tobacco industry. This is important background info.

Powell’s so-called “memorandum” was a confidential letter to the Chairman of the Education Committee at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In it, he discussed what he termed the “Neglected Opportunity in the Courts” and proposed that corporate cash could and should lead to more corporate-friendly rulings by SCOTUS.

The heading itself is scary enough, given how little room it leaves for misinterpretation, but the memo actively urges “weaponiz[ing] the courts to serve business interests.” Powell wanted to use the courts as a tool to save capitalism. By rewarding Powell with a Supreme Court nomination just two months after writing his memo, Richard Nixon showed he was a man who also knew how to use a tool.

And so began the “operationalization” of the Court that brings us to the present day. From the 12+ year old Citizens United v. FEC ruling that allows unlimited corporate funding of campaigns and elections to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which corporations were portrayed as rights bearers for “the humans who own and control [them]” and beyond, Powell’s dream of a pro-business court was coming true even in opinions by presumably “liberal” justices (though hardly to the same extent as those on the other side of the political aisle).

So now, with a super solid and uber conservative majority, why limit judicial activism to just pro-business decisions? As they lingered over the wording of their destruction of a woman’s right to privacy around her so-called private parts, SCOTUS made it virtually impossible for inmates to win release as a result of ineffective lawyering (see Shinn v. Ramirez), it effectively removed all prohibitions against the use of excessive force by federal law enforcement in violation of the 4th Amendment (see Egbert v. Boule), and with Carson v. Makin it achieved a trifecta of rulings that support the union of religious schools and federal money.

Did I mention that all of the above came down during June alone?

Now that Roe is dead, it’s easy to envision many people feeling both empowered and powerless. I fear modern day adherents to the Powell doctrine. I fear we’ll use our rapidly changing nation as a continued excuse to take our anxieties out on each other. If any part of you agrees that Americans are being pushed into an every-man-for-himself/herself society, then no moving part is more critical than your informed vote.  

Do not give into despair.
Find out where your excuses go to die.
Learn the machine.
Arm yourself with yourself.


Further Reading:

The Powell Memo: A call to Arms for Corporations by Bill Moyers

Dark Money and the Courts
The Right-Wing Takeover of the Judiciary

Westway to the World: UKRAINE CALLING

With the Swiss having dropped their treasured neutrality to join sanctions against Moscow, events in Europe are feeling more like lyrics to a CLASH song every day.

The last time average people coming together made my chest swell this much was when we Angelenos gathered to watch a Space Shuttle fight LA traffic following the Endeavour‘s 2012 goodbye aerial tour of the Southland. (Out on the sidewalk, the unity was breathtaking, trust me.)

And now I’m feeling inspired, uneasy, and thrilled to see organizations, executives, soldiers, civilians, and nations showing character in the world despite countless excuses to turn away. The global outpouring of support for Ukraine is a true marvel. The roar of crowds in world-wide protest of anti-democratic aggression is filling my heart the way Clash frontman Joe Strummer’s conflict-romanticizing lyrics have for decades.

Turkey is closing off strategic access points to the Black Sea. Ballets and concert halls are shunning pro-Putin conductors and dancers. The EU and Canada have closed their airspace to Russian aircraft. Brexit Europe is collectively buying Russian-made jets to give to Ukraine’s air force pilots. Berlin is sending weapons to Ukraine knowing they well may be used by accountants, taxi drivers, dentists, teachers, and teenagers (talk about playing with fireworks!). Anonymous is threatening to expose Putin’s secrets and target Russian infrastructure. Oligarch jets and super yachts are being tracked and seized. Energy conglomerates are divesting, and in Moscow a hacked car-charging station blinks, “Out of Service. Glory to Ukraine. Glory to Heroes.”

Because big banks can freeze all the funds they want, Strummer was right: “Without people you’re nothing.”

So the world is now conducting its first-ever plutocrat guerrilla war, turning off the Russian economy like a light switch. Risking retaliatory cyber strikes, the collapse of its own markets, and even a nuclear temper-tantrum, it has made a ground zero of the Russian Central Bank. As of this writing, even China has agreed to serve as mediator in talks between Russia and Ukraine, an important hub in their own Belt and Road Initiative.

Political tablecloths in nearly every nation are being ripped from under dinner plates. As Paul Massaro, Senior Policy Advisor at the US Helsinki Commission for Security and Cooperation (and human Russian corruption alarm) observed, “It’s a weird feeling to see almost every policy recommendation you’ve ever made implemented within the span of a week.”

This stopped being a David and Goliath tale as soon as it began, instead becoming Goliath versus all the Davids. It has galvanized the globe in a way even COVID couldn’t, for the time being even relegating our own neo-Nazis to their Florida sandbox to chant support for authoritarian dictators amongst themselves. We don’t even know yet how huge this is, but as with all lessons, “knowing” comes after feeling, and today we’re feelin’ it like I’m feelin’ the Ukrainian woman who posted instructions on how to pilot Russian armored vehicles captured (or towed away by farm tractors). If he hadn’t died in 2001, Joe Strummer would already be singing about her (and the discrimination reportedly on display at refugee checkpoints.)

In the early days of the Clash, the band metaphorically referred to London’s elevated highway, The Westway, as a means to reach out to the world. Ukraine is reaching out today, reminding us of how precious and worthy democracy is. Thankfully there are road signs to help America find the way she has lost.

And speaking of the United States, where is America in all of this? For the most part, right where the world needs her, in the passenger seat, using her mad coordination skills, kickin’ down big cash as well as “those Washington bullets,” and enjoying her favorite pastime, rooting for the underdog.


For your consideration…

1. Want to support the people in Ukraine? International Medical Corps is on the ground in Ukraine
2. Ukraine Humanitarian Fund
3. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
4. The Clash: Westway to the World

2021 Excuse of the Year: Moving Goal Posts

Expect an answer, get an accusation. Request specifics, get whataboutism. Ask for sources, listen to the claims of invalidated media. Try and catch even a hint of responsibility, and reach the end of the discussion hearing none.

We zig-zag, rather than discuss. We dodge debate like an NFL quarterback running for the end zone.

Sharing information is less about reading, considering, and proposing than about tossing headlines and social media posts at one another. We might as well bestow “Blame” and “Me” with special interest group status.

This has been the experience of many Americans lately, whether discussing restaurants, mandates, or Covid common sense. Co-workers, family, friends, and every other swingin’ TikTok in between argue over justifications and resentments, all of which leap from a narrow “yes” or “no.”

Agreeing to disagree isn’t what it used to be. Rarely are so many so proud of being so obstinate. It’s as if someone started a rewards programs for foot stomping and blindfolding. Trying to get a straight answer from a devout anti-vaxxer, for example, is like debating a barking dog.


Maybe we’re lazier now. It’s easier to follow a politician who exists on Likes, baiting, and tantrums than to read policy, and maybe frequently renewed health and science data has normalized our being unable to keep up. But someone’s got to, and too many Americans seem tired of caring: about public health and safety, about equity, and frankly, about each other.

Such a degeneration of discourse has worsened one of America’s current perfect storms. It has enabled our individual-obsessed, consumer natures, making it easier to anticipate less, expect more, and attach conditions to rare concessions.

“Yeah but..”

“Yeah but..”

“Yeah but..”

It’s no way to get anywhere and there’s no excuse for it, but such is the result of becoming a calculating, self-congratulatory, sound bite society.

I can only separate myself from the obscuring of accountability and the grinding down of fellowship when I remember to get character or become one.

It’s the Abuse, Stupid.

Increased benefits or not, the past 15 months have exposed what little regard Americans have for waitstaff and retail help.

The entitlement of the Paid Not to Work narrative pales in comparison to clip after clip of retail and restaurant employees being yelled at and assaulted. Whether due to COVID protocols or the public’s general lack of coping skills, no wonder strip mall manpower isn’t rushing back to fill these domestic abuse scenarios disguised as employment.

I know a few hireable candidates who couldn’t care less about their old gigs, and it isn’t because Biden bought ’em a piece of Easy Street.

Relocation and career changes play a part, as do schooling, childcare, eldercare, and job applicants who remain unvaccinated. Clips of customer tantrums are the new Cops!, and all that viral phone footage plays an arguably bigger part in why 42% of restaurants and small businesses report an inability to fill job openings. Tik-Toks showing rage and verbal harassment reinforced the service-business dread of countless grocery workers. Infrared depictions of how our sneezes end up in Alaska don’t help.

From fast food to gourmet and everything in between, no food service employee is free from questioning whether or not it’s worth going back.

According to a server-friend at a popular LA eatery, neither do efforts to match pre-COVID efficiency while being met with insults and accusations of laziness — including from one’s own employer or corporate overlord. 

Even the energy of those thrilled to finally be out and about can contribute to a lack of awareness about the many new obstacles to rapid service waitstaff now face. With a longer journey from grill to street table, this includes taking steps to ensure dishes remain piping hot for as long as possible. Says my friend, “If the food’s not hot, forget a decent tip.”

Ditto when a customer whose starting pointing is mask resistance instructs you to “go tell the chef to,” and you try to explain why you’re no longer allowed to do that.

There was also the post-Covid discovery that waitstaff had been assigned additional duties like busing their own tables (this was once the job of a bus staff). Wiping down the walls was a new one, and in between seatings, it’s now mandatory. So far the employees agree: this new “side work” eats up the time it would take to serve a full table, effectively eliminating at least one potential tip. “And when you don’t have a lot, you count on your tips – a lot.”

Welcome to Restauranting, post-COVID. For my friend and colleagues, being spoken to contemptuously has been yet another bonus, especially when managing the line of patrons waiting to enter an establishment. All staffers now get to help with this cattle call. “And out there,” I was told, “the insults are quicker, louder, and fueled by a mob.”

Further fun add-on expectations include: 

  • Filling to-go orders, which have exploded in number for most restaurants
  • Prepping to-go condiment and utensil packets with all the usual landfill waste; never to exclude card-stock event promos and specials
  • Preparing bins of pre-wrapped table settings 
  • Napkin folding and the resetting of street tables and fake plants
  • Answering phones using approved post-COVID etiquette
  • Navigating client demands related to food allergies and the substitutions the restaurant is no longer willing to make (all while car exhaust wafts across the “patio”).

It’s a post-COVID world, after all, and if the “undeserving poor” would just put down the Netflix and get back into their low wage boxes, everything would be so much better for everyone else’s 401k. Besides, some employers are even paying more than minimum wage, you greedy shirkers, and others are offering a handful of benefits. Not, like, sick days or paid family leave, but beggars can’t be choosers!

Or can they?? Can even underpaid people dare to dream that the supply and demand magic of capitalism might one day work for them, too? That the high demand for their labor might command a higher price paid in the form of livable wages and better working conditions?

Veteran waiters learn to take a lot in stride, like patrons who leave their dentures on the table, or a full diaper. Stuck ay home at the height of the pandemic, they may have even begun miss cranky regulars known for sending orders back, but that will sure disappear fast!

Of course some of these realities were present before the pandemic, but c’mon. After a year away from waiting tables and given the current climate, wouldn’t you be looking elsewhere, looking higher, or cozying up to connected friends and family? Wouldn’t you be digging at the dirt for a better environment to work in than a slop-trough with 16 televisions and a bunch of sniping customers?

So some are slow to go back. Duh. Many others are hesitant to put a target on their backs as first-timer restaurant employees. People do request interviews and then don’t show up. Is that because they’re on the white water rafting trip Congress gifted them, or did something better become possible?

Sure, there are those out there collecting and coasting on the government’s dime, middle fingers held high at this nation of chokehold apologists, oligarchs, sex-crime politicians, and groveling, racist swine. But it’s not the free ride the American way of life is paying for that’s keeping you from your bacon burger: in no small part, it’s the abuse, stupid.

Shaming someone back to your sports bar isn’t gonna work. But if you think it will, bring that burger over here so I can lift the lettuce myself and hock one for my friend.


Haunted House USA

Word of the day: PALIMPSEST
noun: palimpsest; plural noun: palimpsests
• something reused or altered still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
• a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

“Whites Only” and other racist palimpsests endure throughout America.

Rich Frishman’s photography can be both meditative and empowering. Meditative, because it inspires self-examination, and empowering, because it’s created to show and tell.

Frishman’s Ghosts of Segregation project offers us a contemplative and quiet study of America’s racist past, a practical exhibition of photographic evidence in which images are captioned most poignantly by their place in history. It’s also an incredibly useful, “when they go low, you go high” answer for when you’ve taken the bait of that family bigot or folks activated by the politics of ethno-nationalism (formerly known as “old friends”).

Personally, I want Ghosts of Segregation open on my laptop whenever I’m rejecting “woke” as an insult, explaining equity vs. equality, and discussing the difference between canceled and accountability. Not as some sort of a mic drop though; more like finding a common emotional truth. These powerful palimpsests can’t help but force a needed pause in such an exchange ––and could even offer an escalator up.

See what you think:

Ghosts of Segregation

The enigmatic inscription “change,” floating above Chartres Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, largely goes unnoticed. It is the vestige of the sign over the St. Louis Hotel Slave Exchange. The luxurious hotel included a bank, ballroom, shopping arcade and trading exchange. Six days each week from 1838-1862, under the hotel’s domed rotunda, auctioneers sold off land and goods as well as thousands of enslaved people.
When the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was founded in 1934, the process of “redlining,” the act of denying loans and financial services to black neighborhoods while granting them for white neighborhoods, was codified. The Detroit neighborhood of Wyoming was a redlined black neighborhood for nearly a decade until the early 1940s, when developers wanted to build a white development in the area. They were denied by the FHA because their plan placed the white neighborhood “too close” to the black neighborhood. Thinking quickly, the developers responded by building a half-mile long wall directly between Mendota Street and Birwood Avenue for a full three blocks. This was enough to be given the nod of approval from the U.S. government. The wall, now known as 8 Mile Wall, was the official racial divider for over 20 years, until the Fair Housing Act supposedly abolished such racist policies in 1968.
Built in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium was home to the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and again in 1933. The field was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the Negro East-West League in 1932, and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937.


Ghosts of Segregation

Opening Day Privilege

My grandfather was hired by Gene Autry in 1961 to engineer-produce radio broadcasts for the Los Angeles Angels. The privilege of his world was easy to see, even as a kid.

I remember many drives out to Angel Stadium: my mom, my dad, my brother and I. We usually left the car a drunk-crawl away from the entrance turnstiles, but once or twice we’d get directed to spaces “far away,” like 20 or so cars further than our usual guest spot.

We, too, entered the stadium through the turnstiles but soon left the public promenade through a hip-high gate that was opened for us. I remember climbing exterior stairs and avoiding golf carts down a wide corridor, then going up more stairs. Finally we’d reach press-box row, which was constructed almost entirely of steel.

Whichever grown-ups were leading the way –my dad, grandparents, uncles or “friends”– niceties were exchanged with familiar employees, including the middle-aged woman who usually guarded the boxes and who made cheery eye contact with everyone. Then we’d follow that lady down a wonderfully curved hallway, under what seemed like countless fluorescent light tubes. Mini-skirted cocktail waitresses streamed in and out of doors, carefully eyeballing their drink trays and backing against the cold steel as we passed. The rising and falling, roaring angry joy of the crowd was, of course, the acoustic backdrop for this journey.

Insider associations with Major League Baseball had much more cultural cachet back then than they do today: they were less political, but more powerful for it. Every now and then when we walked through that middle door, former President Nixon, Nolan Ryan, or some other luminary would be in there and we’d be told not to point or talk. Foul balls were the only exception to red light rule, since they’d fire right into the unprotected box and nail the back wall. My grandfather would be sitting next to announcers Dick Enberg and former Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, the only one in the room tall enough to flinch when those fouls came in. 

With his patent leather shoes and cardigan sweaters, my grandfather often appeared as though he’d just come from a golf course lunch or NASA briefing. I never once saw that man sweaty, sloppy, or demanding. Fans in the stands dressed like fans, but we dressed like for church or for the airport.

I revisit these memories each Opening Day (or during the first hour of “Casino“). To me, the very best times were when we accompanied my grandmother to say goodbye when my grandfather was boarding the bus with the team to hit the road. It was always late at night, right outside the Disneyland Hotel, and the whole club would be there, along with the player’s wives and kids. Talk about a hug fest.

My privilege was in being free to enjoy the unity I saw there for what it was, without being branded by the cultural significance of those memories to the point of relying on an imperfect era to define the way the world should be.

When I’d finally grown old enough to sit in the dugout, my honor came the day I exchanged hellos with Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Don Baylor and Brian Downing during what is considered to be the best Opening Day lineup in Angels history. 


In Each Other’s Shoes

Walking in each other’s shoes is not about how you would feel dealing with their circumstances. It’s about seeing how the other person feels dealing with their own circumstances.

Inmates and guards betray their respective roles more often than one might imagine, and more often than custody comportment will allow either to admit.

In fact, even aside from 12-step support stuff, so-called emotional safes zones do exist on maximum security prison yards. They feel as odd as they are accidental, and God help the fool who utters a phrase like “emotional safe zone” out loud.

Capitalizing on this all too human need to be heard and understood is a program modeled on the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which places college students in classrooms with inmates for semester-long, full-credit courses. Today more than 150 institutions of higher education have successfully sponsored courses in more than 200 correctional institutions. Even more notable, since 2016, Police Training Inside-Out (PTI-O) has been explored as a way to better train cops

A partnership between Duquesne University (and founder Norman Conti), the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, PTI-O was designed to bring cadets and cons together once a week in an academic seminar held behind prison walls. The idea was to supplement traditional police academy training with a way for law enforcement officers to develop a more nuanced professional vision than “us versus them.” Based on the depth of the interaction, a similar mindset shift is expected to occur among participating inmates as well.

During my own incarceration, one particular Corrections Officer worked our unit’s lonely “lights out shift” quite frequently. He was a schlub who basically listened to the fellas snore, pray, and turn the pages of books. The warning about him went, “Pretend you’re asleep when Officer X does his rounds: that dude’ll talk your ear off.”

Guys shuffling to and from the toilets during the night would report his conversations with various inmates, but it was less a matter of, “What’s that rat-snitch blabbing to the badge about?” and more, “Ha! That dummy forgot to tip-toe!” I was that dummy once or twice myself. Returning from the can, I’d been waved over to his desk, only to endure mindless blather about his crappy vacation or doc-ordered dietary changes.

And this guy wasn’t alone. I encountered or heard about several prison guards who took psychic hostages this way, though most of us were at least begrudgingly charitable. They’d roll their eyes when we talked about our big post-custody plans, and we’d roll our eyes when they trotted out the obligatory (though likely part-true): “Believe me: I could just as well have wound up in your shoes.” Never mind the similarities of our breathing the same prison air, burying much of the same PTSD, or the burdens of secrets and stereotypes.

There was relief and humanity found in such truces, and I know many of the men on both sides of those exchanges felt it. Sometimes those fleeting moments –mundane as they may have been– were even slightly charming. But the very best were the exchanges in which we got into each other’s heads just a little, and then disclosed our findings.

For a few days I repeatedly dropped, “The sergeant with the missing finger told me how he lost it!” I hadn’t been the only person he told, but for a minute I proudly thought otherwise.

A typical PTI-O class puts police and inmates in small groups, discussing questions like: “What are prisons for?”; “Why do people commit crimes?”; “What are some things that prisons do well/poorly?”; and “What would you say to the assertion that prisons are now our country’s principal government program for the poor?”

Conti, the program’s founder, says he still deals with reluctance on both sides. To get them to sign up, some inmates have to be reminded that it’s better for their communities back home to deal with a cop who knows how to do more than divide the world into “citizens” and “predators.”

On all fronts, the police training version of Inside-Out represents cutting edge criminal justice reform and offers a true hand in reversing mass incarceration. It validates a small but valuable prison souvenir/takeaway of my own: “Sometimes you have to get in the box to think outside of it.”

Check out Officer Training Behind Prison Walls to learn more about how the program works. Maybe bring it up to cop you know and see if they roll their eyes.




A disturbed man is waiting for you on line two. The person who answered was told that your office’s best people won’t do; it’s you, or it’s nobody.

The caller refuses to reveal his location. He’s tired, alternately weeping and cursing. He can’t run anymore. It was self-defense, he insists, the murder he’s suspected of committing. In police hands, he knows he’s in for beatings and probably death.

Terrific. You’ve got enough hassles. Hell, down the hall, above the restrooms, the words “COLORED” and “WHITE” live under scant few of coats of paint, and you remember when the first had been applied. In an all white newsroom, you stick out enough.

Explicit racial segregation may have been recently outlawed, but implicit segregation is everywhere. While your colleagues don’t openly question why you’d been given the job, it’s clear many of them don’t want you to lose sight of their doubts.

You’re one of maybe three black journalists in America working for a major metropolitan newspaper –white owned, of course– and your next story is being personally handed to you. No competing for the lead. No hunting down witnesses for lengthy interviews, no knocking on doors and being told to get lost.

On the other hand, agreeing to take this call will put you in the path of 20 seething beat cops, each one rattling the starting gate for a run at your new friend. And controlling the narrative of an apprehension is one thing law enforcement officers hate the most. No way will your intrusion be easily be forgotten.

Well, let ’em remember.

You’ve got this.

You are Chuck Stone.

Your place in journalism and in the media has been controversial long before now. As the former editor of the black-owned newspaper, New York Age, you once put a white dude on staff, gave him a page-one column, and let him fend for himself in your newsroom. 

The obstacles you’ve overcome and the powerful agendas you’ve battled have prepared you to take the news as it comes, without compromise. Remember how you were once fired as editor-in-chief of the Chicago Daily Defender for refusing to back off of Chicago’s “Boss,” the infamous Mayor Richard Daley?

You’d been right on the heels of this “committed white supremacist,” a public official who said to a sitting US Senator without blinking an eye, “Fuck you, you Jew son-of-a-bitch, you lousy motherfucker – go home.”* As the Senator addressed the 1968 Democratic National Convention, uttering things Daley didn’t want heard, the Boss drew a finger in a slicing motion over his throat signaling to cut the Senator’s microphone. You, Chuck Stone, stuck with the story. You had to be thrown out before you’d be intimidated into leaving.

Hell of a time in America then, eh? Hmph…Hell of a time now.

And you didn’t attack Daley’s leg-breaker public persona: you stayed focused on what he was doing while no one was looking, like playing dumb about a long-running Chicago Police torture ring. Or diverting millions in city funds to a firm that employed his son. “If a man can’t put his arms around his sons and help them,” was Daley’s retort, “what’s the world coming to?” 

For pushing for change; for what and who you chose to tackle in print; for standing up to men like Daley; and for your friendships with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael you were labeled “the angry man of the Negro press.” It was a nickname you brushed aside before entering electoral politics yourself, rolling up your sleeves as a special assistant for Congressman Clayton Powell Jr. Your time on The Hill was short-lived, but that may have been for the best given Powell’s controversial trajectory.

And either way you, Chuck Stone, were just getting started. Many of your articles would soon be published under the title, “Tell It Like It Is.” Shortly after that came Black Political Power in America, a spotlight on black exclusion from government jobs, policy-making, and essentially any position within which jobs could be created or dispensed.

You took on what you called “the testing mafia” as well, arguing that SATs and ACTs are virtually pointless since, “in an unequal society, standardized test scores only reflect inequality.” If that wasn’t enough (and because you are Chuck Stone), you founded the Cambridge-based National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Finally, you became the Philadelphia Daily News’s first black columnist, which is the desk your fugitive has just demanded. 

So those 20 plus street cops waiting to pounce can just keep on sitting tight until you’re ready. You will first meet secretly with the murder suspect on the phone. You will calm him down and prepare him. You will take pictures of his face from multiple angles, just in case the police decide to go to town on it. 

It isn’t your first time at their rodeo, no sir. At this point, this is maybe the 75th African-American fugitive suspect to call you.

And why? Because you can handle walking into dark rooms with fearful, desperate men  – murderers in most instances –  and still maintain professional equilibrium. You’re known for snapping pre-surrender mug shots, collecting details the cops will have to wait for. What are your thoughts when you do this? Are you mentally back at your desk, drafting invective for alternately thuggish and fatally bumbling Philadelphia mayors, Frank “The General” Rizzo and Wilson Goode? (They were desperate men too – desperate to get away from you!)

Your writing is informative, scathing, funny, and even safe for kids. (A children’s book?) Newsroom doubters and biggots may think you’re an ornament, another bow-tied militant ready to take on Whitey. But they wish they could come up with zingers like yours.

And you, Chuck Stone, are not one of those people to climb a ladder only to pull it up behind him. You taught students to do what you do, though perhaps less controversially. You became an English professor at the University of Delaware. And leave it to you to win the city’s Excellence in Teaching award, then go to earn another just like it from North Carolina’s School of Journalism.

Did I mention your days in Tuskegee, Alabama during World War II? You were a Tuskegee Red Tail navigator. You were also a husband and a father of three. You were a White House correspondent and editor of the Washington Afro-American. You were an NBC-TV news commentator for the Today show, and before that a distributor of food and farm equipment to forgotten farmers in Egypt and India. You invented “Stone’s Index of Proportional Equality,” a tool used to measure an ethnic group’s percentage in the population against its percentage of elected officials.

And all the while, you’ve been exposing police brutality, corrupt college placement, political heavies and their goons…and you still aren’t satisfied! You’re Chuck Stone, and you don’t let your bow-tie or flat-top fool anyone, not even the inmates at Pennsylvania’s Graterford Prison, who’ve just taken 39 hostages under the leadership of Joe-Joe Bowen, a man who, while at his last penitentiary, stabbed to death the Deputy Warden and then did the same thing to the Warden.

You think little of walking into such a “riot-torn hellhole” to square off with Joe-Joe, the hostage-taker with the shotgun. Was your mind still calmly back on the papers you had to grade when they told you Bowen had shot an elderly couple, killed a cop, and could kill you?

Whatever it was, you helped negotiate to free the Graterford hostages, then worked a deal for the Bowen gang’s surrender. Pennsylvania’s governor himself asked for you. He’d been told that anyone agreeing to meet with Bowen couldn’t be some plain-clothed cop or corrections mediator; it would have to be the real deal. It would have to be Chuck Stone, the black journalist known as “the surrender middleman.”

Negotiations ended with Bowen telling you, “Everything here is cool,” and it was. You probably thought Joe-Joe was a cupcake compared to Mayor Daley. And you robbed the guards of possible reprisals by maneuvering Bowen’s transfer from state to federal custody.

You died almost seven years ago now, but you lived an incredible life, always finding opportunities, promoting equity, outliving doubters, and speaking truth to men of power at every step of your career.

Today, your legacy is the push for media diversity and rests at the National Association of Black Journalists, the institution you served as founding President.

Whoever’s up next to speak to the fugitive on line two, we can only hope he’ll live up to your standards. (Literally, the ones you called “FEAT” for Fairness, Even-Handedness, Accuracy and Thoroughness.)

Charles “Chuck” Stone, Jr., you were a true first responder to fires set by arsonists hoping to burn facts and build false narratives. I wish you were here today. 


* Allegedly said to Senator Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, when the Senator challenged Daley’s use of force during the ’68 DNC  (Source: Wikiquote)


The L.A.County Men’s Central Jail: Day Zero

The on again, off again initiative toward bulldozing this municipal black site might finally be realized.

In 2014, when the LA County Board of Supervisors turned their attention back to the city’s contemptible Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), demolishing it was a given. A civic corner had been turned, taking all plans to update and expand the existing structure off the table. There could be no escaping the curse of a bloodthirsty culture of deputy-on-inmate violence that lived deep in the building’s bones: the miserable concrete labyrinth had to come down.

The lockup built in 1962, and often referred to as “the old side,” continues to rot in place. Former Sheriff Lee Baca has since been convicted, but the facility itself is still overseen by the Custody Operations Division as atrociously as ever. Equally troubled Alex Villanueva likely runs it with as much “Us vs. Them” spite than during my own 10-month stay as a pre-trial prisoner under then-Sheriff Sherman Block (at the time America’s highest paid public official).

But as Americans rethink their positions on criminal justice, LA’s Men’s Central Jail should be seen as both worst-case and day zero.

First, the worst.
Secrecy has long permeated the ranks of LA Sheriff’s Brass and enshrouds MCJ. It’s such an organizationally controlled fortress, only touring an aircraft carrier can compare. Murals, tributes, trophy cases, banners, badges, and memorials force feed visitors law enforcement martyrdom to the point where one can’t sense how much it’s all spinning until reunited with fresh air and sunlight. 

The Department has managed for decades a kind of denial sleight-of-hand involving its budgets, bad apples, excessive force settlements, corruption scandals, secret deputy gangs, and a conveyor belt of civil rights violations and allegations of misconduct. There’s always an excuse as to why it’s “not the right time” to close MCJ’s old side, hold the LASD accountable, or discuss ways to reduce corruption, even as 539 of 606 lawsuits against the city in fiscal year 2018-19 were filed against the Sheriff’s Department alone. (And to the tune of $81.5 million). In the end, this shell game of postures and pushback has prolonged the life of their beloved Men’s Central Fight Club.

• Department Leaders had a lax attitude towards deputy aggression and discouraged deputy discipline
• Department was aware of deputy cliques present at MCJ and known to high level management as far back as 2004
• The Sheriff allowed his Undersheriff and Assistant Sheriff to run the Custody Division without effective oversight
• Deputies Have Enabled Inmates to Use Force Against Other Inmates
• Witnesses have told the Commission that deputies enabled inmates to attack other rival inmates by opening the doors to several cells at once, which inmates refer to as “racking the gates.”
• The Commission also heard about deputies who have intentionally placed inmates in dangerous situations, such as placing high-security inmates in the general population and announcing their crimes to the other inmates.

In the current climate, the future for reform looks a bit brighter. Still, it’s unclear what will actually become of MCJ. Zócalo’s Joe Matthews makes a case for keeping the old dungeon around, perhaps as a museum of mass incarceration or a center for democratic principles in action. “To tear down Men’s Central Jail would be to risk forgetting what the place has meant, and to miss a historic opportunity to turn this torture chamber into a vital center for California’s future,” he writes. Conversely, there is an optimistic view among many Angelenos that the very act of destroying MCJ could usher in a new era of transparency for the historically corrupt Sheriff’s Department. Perhaps by reclaiming the vital downtown real estate MCJ occupies, the thinking goes, the LASD can be shaken of its worst impulses and elements, allowing its more reform-hungry and youthful professionals to elbow their way to the fore.

At minimum, the County Supervisors voted last year to cancel a $1.7 billion expansion of the facility into a Supermax on steroids. That little project–– now thankfully also off the table–– was being referred to as the “mental health jail” (talk about a jinx). Sights are now set on a sprawling campus of support housing, drug diversion and reentry programing, and the critical mental health and addiction recovery services that would comprise a true Restorative Justice Village.

Phase One was approved in September and includes the Vignes Project, aka “Hope Village,” a predominantly CARES Act-funded $48-million bridge housing facility artfully made of shipping containers. Planned for rapid construction in MCJ’s industrial backyard, the idea is to begin diverting the city’s growing homeless population away from incarceration, where it’s 60-100% more expensive to detain those with mental health or substance use disorders. A second Chinatown property once intended for MCJ parking is also slated for an affordable or supportive housing development. As part of the LA Board of Supervisors’ new “care first, jail last” policy, Hope Village may someday swallow the LASD complex altogether.

So could MCJ, the “The Abu Ghraib of Los Angeles,” home of the heroin burrito, be swapped out for a recovery university and support shelter?

Ha! It’s better than the idea I had back in 2014, when I proposed that the whole karmic Superfund site be turned into a mall. Hey, I’m optimistic too, but with how little we thought of criminal justice reform, disenfranchised and forgotten citizens, immigrants, and any further legwork to achieve racial justice, a custody-themed Cellblock Shopping Town is what I thought we deserved.

It still will be if we ––and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors–– let this chance to turn a corner pass us by.

For a historical perspective on the LASD’s excessive use-of-force in its jails and failure to discipline rogue officers, check out: L.A. County Sheriff’s Department: A Report by Special Counsel James G. Kolts & staff, 1992 –– and this Los Angeles Times Story Gallery


“Freedom” 2020 Excuse of the Year

Of all the con jobs we’ve witnessed this year, “freedom,” as both a behavioral exemption and grounds for radicalization, is by far the most repulsive.

From rationalizing hysterical self-centeredness to racism, betrayal, co-signing cowardice, gas-lighting, and willful ignorance, 2020 offered too many candidates for this decision to have come easily.

Oceans of petulant finger-pointers, neo-Nazis, and applauders of malice (on both sides) gave us a perfect storm; a Category 5 from which Americans sought moral shelter in those crude dwellings of justification. Welcome to the shantytown.

Which shack appeared the least structurally sound? Or so went my criteria, until the examples of our taking freedom for granted simply flooded the competition. Take this one, for instance:

The Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) survey of 2,000 members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) showed that 55% of participants said they would not bother to get inoculated.

ABC News – 12/7/2020

Call me crazy, but don’t NYC’s first responders have arguably the best health care options in the United States? Isn’t their not wanting “to be looked at as test subjects” just a tad spoiled? How is this not like Trump refusing to wear a mask with the assurance of top-notch medical treatment?

“As a union,” says Andrew Ansbro, president of the UFA, “we are defending the right to make that choice.” Defending it from what, suspicion? Responsibility? This is the heroism we’re constantly told to revere?

Elsewhere, California governor Gavin Newsom and other suits – whose failures to practice Coronavirus safety protocols seemingly put them above their own decrees – have the “freedom” to be two-faced while they kiss my ass.

Likewise, the “freedom” not to wear a mask despite their proven ability to help protect others from our personal respiratory exhaust is not self-government. It’s a selfish distortion of independence.

Refusing to refer to Joe Biden & Kamala Harris as “President and Vice President Elect” is the “freedom” to show disdain for leadership and professionalism. It’s choosing to exhibit bad sportsmanship before the eyes of young people. It leaves adherents in the self-righteous and phony position of telling others to respect them and their institutions rather than demonstrating why.

I myself am a fan of comedians Doug Stanhope and Dave Chappelle, but both could stand to realize that “freedom” from the boogeyman of political correctness isn’t found in belittling gender identity. Instead of re-purposing “faggot” as a comedic garnish could you maybe free your progressive audience from second guessing you?

Showing hatred toward those of different cultures or expressing immigrant xenophobia ––and calling it patriotism–– is “freedom” as well. So is beating your dog with a stick and calling it “correcting”.

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with shooting and killing two people during a civil disturbance in Wisconsin (itself the exercise of varying degrees of “freedom”), went looking for a fight, yet some call him a patriot for allegedly defending the “freedom” of entitled others. Either way, Rittenhouse’s own “freedom” will likely go as far as OJ Simpson’s, in that he’ll never be anything other than a murderer too young to legally purchase a gun, who traded a trigger for his own narrative.

As 2020 drags to a close, it’s high time we drop “freedom” from the all-time American short list of excuses for bad behavior. In too many ways, we’ve already lost the “freedom” of a last laugh.




Are you grinding your teeth due to Coronavirus-related stress? COVID-19 FATIGUE is real. And so is your self-respect.


Are you:
•      traumatized by supermarket hostilities?
•      upset at new-fangled telecommunications?
•      disappointed over lost vacations?
•      triggered by eyewear fog?

Health Medical Groups nationwide now recognize COVID-19 FATIGUE syndrome as a debilitating condition on par with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and other serious conditions such as Backward Retention and Panic Swirl. 

The American Oral League says the coronavirus pandemic is causing “an epidemic of jaw pain” due to “New Normals” compelling Americans to adapt to high-handed procedures despite their better judgment – and at levels never before seen in a “free” country!

Treatment for COVID-19 FATIGUE may include counseling, medications such as antidepressants, and lobotomy. But now, for just two easy payments of $169.99, YOU can get your certified COVID-19 FATIGUE LICENSE right away! 


If you are:
•      dismayed at closed sports-bars and movie theaters,
•      angry at having to teach your child math, or
•      sick of waiting in lines…

…this is the card to play!

Your anxiety over washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distance can now be recognized as the debilitating, psychosocial illness it is. Just present your COVID-19 FATIGUE LICENSE in casinos, airports, post offices, gas stations, and many more places of business! 

Finally, you can carry identifying documentation that designates YOU as a sufferer of COVID-19 FATIGUE, the symptoms of which are recognized by medical professionals and government authorities around the world. 

Your COVID-19 LICENSE will allow you the freedom to be recognized



Tarra Simmons, Modern America’s First Ex-con Elected Official

The future is…second chances.

The emergence of the United States’ first formerly incarcerated member of a state legislature defies the conventionally held view that ex-cons can’t become elected officials. 

And when I say, “conventionally held,” I’m referring to the one, two, and three people covered by the fact that one in three American adults has a criminal record, according to the FBI. And if 30% of adults have a criminal record, just about every American is likely familiar with the hard truths, impressions, and clichés of mass incarceration*.

Yet almost all of us believe that people with records are permanently disqualified from post-conviction opportunities. Former inmate Tarra Simmons is a reminder to check that belief.

And sure, there have been a number of other cases where ex-cons have successfully sought office. The difference is, those stories usually involve a privileged, corrupt suit who wants back in the game. Simmons is anything but. She did time for drug delivery, sales, and firearm possession. Then she attended Seattle University School of Law, graduating with honors in 2017.

When the Washington State Bar Association voted against admitting Tarra Simmons, a former bank-robber-turned-lawyer, Shon Hopwood, brought her fight to the State Supreme Court – and won. By mid- 2018, Simmons had been sworn in as an attorney. 

Although she had no political aspirations prior to 2019, Simmons ran as a Democrat this year in an effort to “give people a first chance, so they won’t need a second chance later on in life.”

You might say she was provoked. With some encouragement, she announced her candidacy for a seat in Washington’s 23rd Legislative District after Republicans gave her state bar victory the Willie Horton treatment: a snail-mail attack used in a state Senate race called Simmons a “drug addicted ex-con.” 

She just took her district by 63.32% of the vote.

But no more spoilers. Simmons’s story is a fun, inspired tapestry. You’ll be hearing about her a lot in the coming years, I suspect. After all, she has seen the future, and it looks like criminal justice reform.



*Convicted or not, employment and other forms of discrimination are still a thing.




Truck Dicks are old news that’s been kicked upstairs.
As of this week, they’re no less than Shock Troops.

The armed Texas Trump Train that reportedly outnumbered police 50-1 while surrounding a Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway has received their leader’s eager endorsement. Drivers of giant pick-ups, particularly those with confrontational or tantrum-like adornments, will now be lumped in with political vultures who have essentially become a Storm Division.

The galloping neuroses of men in monster trucks has never been more conspicuous or weaponized.

Already at ease with their cartoonish potency, Truck Dicks have achieved hero status of the “stand back and stand by” variety. Also, they’re probably relieved to have found purpose for their Ford Platinum Super Duty F-350 MSRP of $87,110. What third wife is gonna nag her celtic-tattooed mid-lifer about that monthly $967 insurance/car payment combo while they’re leading the most American parade since the Lafayette Welcoming of 1824?

Yup. Trump’s magic wand again, the meatball stick waved over empty heads. POOF! Knighthood! 

Oh, I don’t mean every mega-truck owner is susceptible, but aren’t the cop groupies who yammer on about law enforcement (as though it were a life form) the easiest of Trump’s recruits? You know, the Dave & Buster’s dadbods whose rigs are too clean to be hauling America-building payloads like in the commercials?

I’m talking about the aging flat brimmers who mansplain about the bells ‘n whistles of doom survival. They swear that 700 pounds per foot of rear-wheel torque and a 40-gallon diesel gas tank are the only things standing between their families and any number of possible human extinction scenarios. Yeah, those 5’5″ fuckers whose flip flops dangle out the door when they fence-hop themselves into the cab.

Not so much guys with the shipyard cred: I mean the haters with the Heineken spread.

It’s almost as if Truck Dicks blossomed at the discovery that they’ve been driving Somali Technicals to Lowes and the bullet store. Their 18-guage steel tiger-cobra-rhino-dominators are now platforms for select historical celebrations, looter hunting, and ideological policing of all sorts. It doesn’t help with their child support payments, but hey, “blood purge.” USA! USA! USA!

If it weren’t for Donald Trump, some of these men might be relegated to the usual parking lot small-penis appraisals. But after ganging up on and endangering the passengers of an election campaign bus, who knows? There may be an Executive Order in their future, one mandating that “Intimidation Performance” be considered in the assessment of full-size pick-up resale value.

Here is our Where Excuses Go to Die screen-grab tribute to the men, trucks, and flags of MAGA enforcement.

Maps of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2020

“Disparities in the criminal justice system are linked to disparities in political representation.”

The cartograms and maps created by The Sentencing Project’s incredible researchers say a lot about who we are –and how far we have to go– as a country. Even a cursory glance at “Locked Out 2020” should have you questioning how so many Americans have come to think the way they do about fairness and opportunity.

Hopefully, it will also spur some thinking on what we can do about it.

Please vote accordingly.

For more, visit


On Bonus Justice

The national dialog on prison reform exists on a steep, 30° hill. Engaging a public taught by film and television to recognize life behind bars only as rape, riots and rotten food makes it a difficult climb.

Once started, the conversation is always in danger of sliding downward into, “Well, they should have thought of that before they went to prison.” And this, in itself, is a trained reaction. It’s an octopus arm of what I’ve long defined as “bonus justice.”

Some maintain that prisoners, while serving their time, shouldn’t be allowed to vote. I disagree, but regardless of where one sides in that debate, the continued denial of voting rights for parolees and ex-felons –– in some cases for life –– is inarguably bonus justice.

A prison guard inventing infractions to punish an unwelcome or shunned inmate is another good example. So, too, are the actions of jailers who believe they’ve been called upon to represent the public interest through the spirit of vengeance

“Justice is for the courtroom,” inmates often remind their keepers, and they’re right. Still, show me a corrections professional and I’ll show you someone forced to navigate the ideations of state-sponsored payback on an inhuman level.

It’s one thing to lean on the mantra, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” But frontline custody personnel who take bribes or embolden gang values while making statements like, “He should’a thought of that before he got sent to my Yard” –– ?

Yep, bonus justice.

But maybe that’s too cliché. Fine. Say your boozy cousin gets 18 months for his fifth DUI and winds up in a minimum security facility, the one with the cow fence around it. Score, right? No gang warfare in his future. He might even earn himself a welder’s certification. But he’s incarcerated during one of California prisons’ recurring outbreaks of Valley Fever. On laundry day, he’s handed an infected pillow case. With the state’s (very) long history of failing to provide even minimal constitutional levels of healthcare in its prisons, his illness can be viewed as bonus justice. 

Or how about an assigned caseworker administratively burdening an offender whose crime is personally disagreeable? What about a Watch Commander who protects, rather than questions, facility practices that steer certain ethnicities toward or away from favored work assignments? Bonus justice is right there for all to see, but it’s often obscured by conditioning, casual neglect, and indifference. 

Interested in seeing if you yourself are as un-progressive as all that?

Read Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Kiera Feldman’s harrowing front page account of what the March-to-May pandemic period was like for female inmates forced to make 3,500 masks per week, many of whom were prohibited from wearing one themselves.

And as you’re reading, if at any point did you decide, “They should have thought of that before…,” take note of it.

Because despite my own former incarceration, this learned, punitive, and bitter convention flashed itself at me as well. And while it may be an uphill climb, we can ––in fact we must–– be better than bonus justice.



Now That He Has “Shut up…”

Be careful what you wish for can be interpreted in many ways. 

I’m inclined to resist “I hope he dies!” and “It’s about time!”

But my not seeking solace in vindictiveness and Schadenfreude has nothing to do with being a good example. That’s Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high,” thing.

I’m thinking more like, “be careful what you wish for.” And not just because Vice President Handmaid’s Tale could take Trump’s place.

No, the facepalm I’m afraid of is right outta the 2020 Twilight Zone: What if we get a POTUS turnaround “like the world has never seen”? 

What if the guy comes back from a nutty near-death experience and suddenly stops being a walking obstruction of justice? What if the oaf wakes up and fires Bill Barr, pays his back taxes, resolves Trump family business conflicts, and outlaws private prisons? What if – POOF! he renews the Spanish translation option at, starts singing Hallelujah while abolishing ICE, counts America’s immigrants among its most valuable assets, drops Amy Coney Barrett for her non-disclosure issues, and has the Proud Boys slapped with the RICO Act? What if he renames the Green New Deal “TRUMP’S Green New Deal,” then Executive Orders it right into existence? After America picks itself up off the floor, will it let the name change pass? I would.

The thought of what would be required of us if Trump somehow got a clue is the scary part. Are we too self-admiring? Would we come together and pull it off?

I know…this is silly fantasy, and “crazier things have happened” doesn’t apply because nothing crazier ever could or has. 

But this guy catching COVID indeed makes him eligible for hitting a bottom, and that’s a far more imaginable and down to earth way to phrase it. 

Trump has, as Biden now famously asked, “…just shut up, man.”

Be careful what you wish for are powerful words…

10/8/2020 Follow up:


The Little Boomerang That Could

People take misinformation seriously. 

A friend’s intellectually disabled son was recently caught gargling with liquid dish soap as mouthwash. “I’m trying to fight the Coronavirus,” the young man told his supervisor. 

She reached for the bathroom door frame when she heard his answer.

Going without a mask for portions of the day had been approved, since he interacts only with her. Apparently he was trying to “make up” for the security that covering his face had provided.

Coworkers ran through her mind. Had any of them made jokes that might have been overheard? Would any be so monstrous as to tell the young man to do this?  Those answers would have to wait.

Informing his father would be a grueling experience.  

“Riley,” diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, is affected by accompanying health issues which, unlike CP itself, are progressive. His dad is a single father who manages care and medical treatment for both his son and his elderly mother. Despite these and other challenges, my friend’s dedication and focus are almost insect-like. He exists for his family, for the next day, the next bill, the next appointment. 

Fortunately, by all accounts, Riley is an easygoing employee. He may not be a workplace dynamo, but cheerfully doing what he can with what he’s been given is definitely his thing. Riley’s most unfavorable report involved his devouring a coworker’s tortellini from the lunchroom fridge. I enjoy imagining he did that as payback for being called “slow.” 

Because Riley can be defiant, sure. Who isn’t? And despite supervision being a mainstay of his life, he isn’t without sense. His father’s surprise is warranted. His confusion, disappointment, and fear are immediate and tangible, whereas his anger and what to do with it will either have to wait or simply be let go. 

I would find that difficult to do, myself. And this is as close as I’ve come to witnessing the boomeranging consequences of the laughable, dangerous, proposals being floated as solutions to the pandemic. I’m unsure of what to do with this other than scream it from the rooftops. 

The good news is that Riley is okay. He has been gently counseled. He goes a little less solo these days, but Riley is no different than the rest of us facing the domineering sway of misinformation and the vulnerabilities it exploits.

Being thankful that Riley only used dish soap creates a lot of what ifs.  


The Soft Spot of Exemption

A pathological adherence to: “It’s okay if I do it because I’m a good person” is America’s worst curse.

It’s hard to fathom the conscious human brain hemorrhaging the idiocy required to esentially set off fireworks on a 118° day in one of the few California forests not already engulfed in a sea of flame, but here we are.

And I say “we,” of course, because the assumption that we’re not, at times, idiots, criminals, or racists applies to everyone. It’s a delusion arising from the same soft spot in our psyches that produces the two things we deny the most: stubbornness and cowardice.

A “gender reveal” smoke bomb ignited the 8700+ acre El Dorado fire because some asshole simply assumed safety would accompany their self-congratulatory antics. The fire rages because a “good person” believed this “goodness” was the totality of their identity.

It’s a line of thinking reminiscent of:
Well, I’ve have NEVER been mean to a person of color, so…
…but it’s a pipe bomb in honor of MY baby!
And now, of course,
Bikes are freedom! Nobody’s telling me to wear a mask at SturgiCon!

If you’ll pardon a little excuse theory, what’s hiding behind an excuse is often the most interesting part, because it says something about all of us. We spend our lives buying and selling justifications, training ourselves to accept various levels of self deception, leaning on more shades of gray than there are rain clouds. We cite mitigating circumstances before we can damn near walk. In every conceivable aspect of our behavior we allow ourselves to escape consequences whenever we can. When we take things too far and wind up pulling something illegal or stupid, we even feel betrayed by these  pillars of rationalization, because somehow they don’t save us.

And to think, gender reveal parties were lame as hell before this.

Whatever amount of restitution this family is expected to pay, they’ll never escape the fact that their monsterous entitlement resulted in the death of a career-skilled firefighter, the destruction of 20 homes, and 22,600+ burned acres of forest.

That’s a lot to own for such a frivolous gratification.

In Support of AB-2147

UPDATE: AB-2147 is now law. Each year, more than 2,000 inmate firefighters battle California wildfires for less than what we civilians pay for a cup of coffee. These current and formerly incarcerated offenders will remember 2020 as the year their hard work was finally recognized and their professional skills ratified. 


If Governor Gavin Newsom signs California AB-2147, former inmates who have successfully participated in the state’s Conservation Camp program may soon see employment barriers related to their past criminal records lifted.

These ex-inmates would be able to request accelerated expungements and apply for a number of state emergency technician licenses, all of which would put to use the training, experience, bravery, and heroic skills they honed during incarceration, but which have so far been deemed valueless outside the perimeter walls.

AB-2147 would acknowledge the contributions Conservation Camp inmates make each season in assisting professional firefighters, including the danger they put themselves in to defend the life and property of Californians like you and me. That includes finger pointers who’d prefer to keep them locked up forever as well as people who say things to “relate” to ex-felons, such as, “Heh-heh. The only difference between me and you is I never got caught.” And finally, it would mean de facto recognition for the three inmates who have died containing our state’s wildfires. 

But maybe you’re not quite ready to call these guys “heroes.” Fine then. Call ’em “survivors,” as in, California wildfire containment survivors. If even that makes you grit your teeth, I’d like to see you stand up to a wall of flame for between $2.90 and $5.12 per day. Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, one of the key sponsors of AB-2147, put it clearly: “I would hope that most of us would agree that an individual willing to face down a fire and smoke is much more than the sum of their previous mistakes.”

I last addressed the misadventures of inmate firefighters as they were being bureaucratically bounced between the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (the crafty union representing prison guards) and the professional firefighters relied upon by California’s prison system to select and train volunteer inmate-applicants. The passage of this new bill would send a needed and powerful signal about the sorts of sacrifices we truly value.

For a fresh take on AB-2147’s promise for both Camp program graduates and California taxpayers, check out Los Angeles Times columnist, Erika D. Smith’s relevant reckoning

There’s a reason why some call Conservation Camp participants the “special forces” of California inmates. Here are some of the questions and qualifications offender-applicants are expected to meet.

And of course, here’s AB-2147 for your perusal.

“My Fellow Convict Americans”

Hi, I’m a convicted American.

As a convicted American, I know what it’s like to be formally and publicly disqualified from society –– to accept the consequesnces and their impact.

I know what it’s like to slam a book shut with the realization of what it means to lose the right to vote. 

Human dignity isn’t something a sentencing judge extracts from a defendant in the courtroom, and its surrender isn’t part of any plea bargain. The loss of dignity occurs informally, away from the public, in places where cruelty, rage, and fear are picked from one’s eye like dust. 

As a convicted American, I know what it is to witness a man’s dignity being taken from him. In describing one of the pillars of prison life, I often say it’s not so much the savagery you witness as the savagery you’re forced to silently bury.

I’ll never be free of those memories: they will always return to haunt me — and also to recharge my values. 

I know the feeling of begging a Corrections Officer (or worse, a prison guard) for toilet paper and soap. No lubricating eye-contact, my lips squished into a gap between steel and concrete. I remember smiling a survivor’s smile, too, at the freedom from having to swallow my pride, the first punch line of prison life. 

And I remember official documentation. For every little thing, one needs papers, signature proof, double verification, a case file, a blue copy, a white copy, a canary yellow copy, and so on. Life behind bars is like living inside a Department of Motor Vehicles office located in a parking structure. 

But here’s what else I know:

As a convicted American, I know the life-affirming relief of chatting about fighter jets or lighting or even God with the man locking you in for the night. 

And I know what it feels like to have my voting rights restored

“I’ve paid my debt to society” sounds like a cliché from the movies until you’re the one saying it. And when you’re no longer nibbling at meals through an annual split lip, goddamn it feels good to say. 

Last night, I watched Trump pardon Jon Ponder. Ponder stood in humility as the entirety of the government’s power was summoned to declare him re-fit for anything American, even elected office or a shotgun collection.
Staged as the ceremony may have been, I wondered if Ponder was thinking, “Just keep being nice to the man. It’s just like back on the row. You know this drill. You want your issue, right? Keep it cool. Get that paper. Play along. Hi, nice lady.” 

I certainly would have been, ’cause as a convicted American, I know a lot about dangled carrots, false hopes, and the journey of becoming my own man with my own principles based on hard won lessons. I know what it feels like to slam a book shut with the realization that dignity and self direction have gradually been inching back

This morning, there are probably equal numbers of Trump campaign strategists patting themselves on the back for proposing the Ponder presidential pardon as there are critics questioning its timing, politics, the RNC, or that Ponder pled guilty and has no right to a pardon.

None of that matters when you’re holding the bearer bond, and Jon Ponder just walked away with one.

And as a convicted American, he knows the value of official documentation. 

Good for you Jon, my friend in restored dignity. 

Take a minute to check out Jon Ponder’s Hope for Prisoners  ––  building and strengthening skills “necessary for employment readiness, leadership development and success throughout the reintegration process.”

Giannulli and Loughlin Sentenced to “Life in Privilege”

Welcome to Notes From a Non-parent #12

Unaltered photo credit

Hey, it’s not like celebrity-felon parents Mossimo Giannulli and Lori Loughlin’s choices were about their daughters’ academic goals, let alone the ascension of their character through a journey in studies. Greedy schmucks got their daughters kicked out of school.  

According to U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton, Giannulli’s and Loughlin’s part in the so-called college admissions scandal was all about an “inexplicable desire to grasp even more.” 

Sounds right. As for the five- and two-month (respective) staycations in federal custody? Works for me. After all, the minimal confinement isn’t the zinger. 

After recounting the celebrity-felon parents’ “fairy tale life,” Judge Gorton handed down their real punishment: “Get Character or Become One.” In other words, they’re gonna have to work pretty hard to reverse their now intimate association with the worst element in American society. 

Oh, I don’t mean the drug dealers, gun runners, and violent criminals who routinely stand before the same judge. I mean the vulgar cheaters of 2020: the scum of high office; the chips off the old systemic block of wealth; the suited, self-centered, swampy wall-building con-artists who bilked their own base. 

For Giannulli and Loughlin, the real penalty is being seen as parents who used their own daughters to further their status, prestige, and entitlement. Their prison number is the side-eye they can expect both in person and on social media. 

Gorton insisted the crimes here were made even less excusable by how unnecessary they were. “You’re not stealing bread to feed your family,” he said to Gianulli. “You certainly did know better.”

Ouch. As someone who also had to stand before a sentencing judge to truly “know better,” I’d say those words are likely to last a lot longer than 5 months.

Could Accountability on Social Media Begin with Fart Humor?

“Each of us is becoming more confident about our own world
just as it drifts farther from the worlds of others.”
The Technology of Kindness, by Jamil Zaki

If we don’t have shared truths we can’t co-exist, we can’t protect ourselves, and we can’t set healthy examples for – anyone. That’s my take-away from a truly empowering article for Scientific American by Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness.

The Stanford professor of psychology observes that merely leaving a phone turned off between two people will result in their trusting each other less. Sounds right to me, given how many times I’ve wondered if the conversation I’m having with someone is worth maintaining, since they’ve apparently abandoned our exchange for the “tiny, addictive affirmations” of a text/Twitter/Facebook alert. And I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve resented a passenger in my car for burying their face in their phone rather than joining me in making fun of other drivers. P.S. it’s not attention I crave, but the value of someone’s presence. Communal silence or even lazy, mutual daydreaming is just as much of a life-affirming treasure as mockery.

And while we’re on the subject, here’s another such “treasure”: farts. Now before you judge, stay with me a minute.

Shared truth. Common ground.
(Do NOT You Tube “Fart Humor” )

I’ve found that one of the easiest strategies for overcoming how separate we are from each other these days is to quickly find even a sliver of common ground. I contend that fart humor fits that bill. I mean, come on! If ever there was a platform we could agree on across every ethnicity, nation-state, class, and rank, it’s that farts are funny.

My work here is done (you’re welcome), but I do encourage you to read Zaki’s full article for yourself. It’s a terrific piece, and not nearly as disruptive as ripping one in the car.


Diverse Crowd of Debtor-Americans eyes skyward
Real Americans are debtors

It hit me 20 years ago: personal debt was becoming the real “bling.” And the question was, how much debt can a person carry without breaking a sweat?

It was a notion that pertained to those of us down here on the ground, of course, not to the swells in private jets. The wealthy had a whole different set of horribly mutating pressures, which have only worsened. This was more of a proletarian thing, based on principles left to dogs that are forced to fight over scraps and dead things. Forget the season tickets, the gold, and the Benz. Flaunting how you’d scored access to a back door in order to procure them was what was important.

Parading around in rich people’s material accessories and mocking “what rich people do” is time-honored comedy. What suggested something different was that Mercedes itself started diluting its brand, offering more models at lower prices and cranking out upgrades and redesigns so frequently that their acquisition required fewer and fewer of the principles behind delayed gratification. We were being met halfway.

Man crying behind the wheel
Mercedes Benz: over-engineered and sprinkled with rhinestones

Shortly after the twin towers fell, I sensed an increased flippancy and cynicism being expressed in regular folks’ spending. Since average people don’t have a lot of disposable income, blurring the line between disposable and borrowed was already pretty common. But when that peculiarity grew so prevalent so quickly, I wondered if building a personal fashion runway on which to strut ––on credit–– had actually surpassed the glint of jewelry or the glamour of that luxury car.

International symbol representing carelessness
Where’s your credit score now Flanders?

We watched as increasing numbers of our fellows lived stupidly beyond their means, but we shrugged and tried to keep up. Such was today’s epidemic of narcissism and entitlement while it was still using training wheels. I filed it all under: “Wealth is quiet. Rich is loud. Fake is flashy.”

The kicker was an ability to show emotional resilience and a light heart in the face of crushing personal debt. It was the United States of Credit Scores, the run up to the 2008 financial collapse that was promulgated by contempt-filled men set on selling a million homes to those who couldn’t afford them.

And then came the New Normal…

he Scary Eyes of Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes wants you to donate your soul for science.

The update to debt-as-bling is far uglier, and now it’s also impossible to ignore. Just look to Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, or the FBI’s inquiry into Jussie Smollet’s dropped criminal charges. The government calling the college admissions scandal a “criminal conspiracy” means little when conventional wisdom routinely waters cheating down to “hacks” and “tricks.” Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli may have refused to plead guilty like the others because maybe it’s not really cheating after all.

All around us, there’s a growing sense that if you’re not “connected,” if you don’t know the secret handshake or the hack (a.k.a. how to cheat), you matter less. Because in 2019, if you’re not engaged in an eye bleeding panic to position your assets, your money, and your bling so they can substitute for merit, well…you’re almost not even American.

Transparency international graphic
Government corruption hates your vote.

I used to think I could survive just about anything. Now I wonder how to keep a healthy outlook when the values and principles I was taught as a child ––which were heavily reinforced when I was a parolee–– are being rejected every time the news catches my attention. As someone who served prison time, I fought like hell to re-embrace the norms, laws, regulations, taboos, and customs that used to be important in civic expectation, not to mention everyday humanities. So now what?

Ace of Spades Hidden in Sleeve
I Pledge Allegiance to Aces up My Sleeve

The criminal record is mine forever, as is the knowledge that I have no one to blame but myself. I’ve made peace with and built on that. But for someone whose actions made detention and stigma a necessary part of a difficult learning curve, it’s absolutely heartbreaking ––and frankly confusing–– to see those lessons, values, and principles being blown off from the top down. What’s worse is the feeling we’re being told these ARE the new upright values and principles.

Is America’s moral courage in a fight for its life?

Dan Tague folded money artwork
Artist Dan Tague’s Easter Eggs are in the folds

So the question is, what do those of us feeling this dread (we 74% of Americans who believe ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption) do about it? How do we go forth believing the values we were raised to protect are still worth protecting ––or even adhering to? If we’re outnumbered and surrounded by those who demonstrate emotional resilience and a light heart in the face of actual criminal activity, what’s the point? What’s “Post-Truth America,” and how in the world would I answer these questions if a 14-year-old were asking them?

These days, it feels more like we live in the United States of Until You Get Caught. Take, exploit, exclude, and profit as much as possible, without concern for what could happen when the whole house of cards collapses. By burying our heads in the sand once again, we do nothing but make excuses for the fact that this is all really fucking happening.


If you’d like to stay on top of where this is going, check out the newly launched Mother Jones Corruption Project.