Posts by Charles Davis

The week in me

Over at Salon, I argue that torture is as American as slavery and genocide.

At Take Part, I report on a Drone Expo held in Los Angeles over the weekend where protesters were called racial slurs for interrupting a war profiteer.

And at Capital and Main, I report on how about 200 lawyers and law students held a "die-in" outside an LA courthouse to protest police brutality and a legal system they know is rigged.

Also: I forgot to link to this before, so here's something I wrote for Salon about how Amazon's decision to kick WikiLeaks off its servers was tied to the major contract it later received courtesy the US intelligence community.

LA’s Drone Expo Stresses the ‘Good’ Side of UAVs

“There's a good chance you will meet the next Steve Jobs here,” said Keith Kaplan, CEO of the Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle System Association (UAVSA), when I called him up earlier this week to talk about the Drone Expo his group was putting on in Los Angeles. Like the Internet, Kaplan argued that the much-maligned drone could do a lot of good – he mentioned “organic farming,” with some farmers using unmanned vehicles to track the growth of weeds on their land – and that we should distinguish the commercial and scientific applications of the technology from its “bad,” military-industrial roots.
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The roots are, of course, totally rotten: From Gaza to Waziristan, drones have been used by the world's most powerful militaries to extrajudicially execute “suspected militants,” problematic young activists and whoever happens to be standing around them at the time. Meanwhile, police departments around the country have been trying to get their hands on the unmanned surveillance variety, sparking protest from those skeezed out by the idea of robots with high-definition cameras hovering above their homes.

But cops and soldiers were nowhere to be found at Saturday's expo, hosted in the Memorial Sports Arena just off the University of Southern California's South Central campus. Instead, what I saw were hobbyists – nerds, who looked like they probably had some very strong opinions about Linux distros – and young women in booty shorts next to exhibitors' booths trying to the overwhelmingly male crowd to check out were essentially remote-controlled helicopters; patriarchy was present as always, but the police state was pretty much AWOL, with companies gearing their marketing toward people who want to take “epic” nature photos.

Still, there was reason to believe the kinder, gentler face of drones and their potentially, legitimately good uses were being emphasized by some in attendance to deflect from the rightfully bad name drones have gotten from their use in, for instance, wanton murder. Just after the expo opened at 11am, around a dozen activists associated with a campaign against the Los Angeles Police Department's proposed use of drones disrupted a keynote speaker, Austin Blue, whose company SciFly "operates both fixed and rotary wing aircraft in support of advanced technologies in support of US Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement programs."

Video of the protest uploaded to YouTube (and since taken down) shows the protesters holding signs and chanting before one poindexter in the audience got up from his seat in a rage and snatched away all their signs. Later, as the activists shouted "hands up, don't shoot," a man can be heard saying: "Choke them." A protester said he also heard a man call one of his comrades a "nigger" as they were being escorted out

Perhaps affected by the commotion, later speakers stressed that they were for the “good” sort of drones, not those other kind (left undefined), with Captain Dave Anderson, who runs a whale-watching company in Orange County and recorded a popular video of said whales with an unmanned aerial vehicle, explaining that he was committed to using the word “drone” in order to reclaim it from those using the technology for less majestic purposes.

The most offensive part of the expo from the perspective of this left-wing anti-war scold was not the drones themselves – the privacy concerns are real and troubling, but like any technology it seems to me it can be used for both good (journalists exposing corporate agriculture) and bad (basically what the military does) – but former White House counsel Lisa Ellman's attempt to coin a new word: “polivation,” a portmanteau of “policymaking” and “innovation,” a linguistic equivalent of a war crime that Ellman earlier deployed in a TED talk, achieving Peak Insufferability. Two of the following speakers, all repeating the the mantra that we need to get over our fear of the commercial use of drones and just Legalize It already, also used the term.

I bailed at that point.
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On the 2014 mid-terms and Obama’s inner Marxist

I wrote something for Salon about the 2014 mid-term electionzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Make it the only thing you read on the topic.

Pro-war pundits: always wrong, always claiming to be right

Over at a website called Medium that I guess looks prettier than this website, I explain that neoconservative pundits Max Boot and Deroy Murdoch are heartless monsters who live in nicer homes than you or me. Read it.

Hooked on finance

My latest piece for Salon is on the recent trend of big banks opening branches literally inside high schools, ostensibly to teach students how to deal with money but also, conveniently -- and as they openly admit -- to promote their brands. Check it out and may peace be with you.

The latest in me

Friends! It occurred to me the other day: I have a blog. I should post things on it. Things I've written! And so here we go.
“The United States doesn’t ever trade its concern for human rights for any other objective," US Secretary of State John Kerry said the other day. I respond on Counterpunch.
Despite a bunch of lawsuits, Hollywood production companies continue to rely on unpaid labor -- though as I note in The Baffler, they'll claim it's a mistake if you ask about it.
That last piece was originally to be published by Vice, a media platform for which I once worked. It was killed because it implicated too many #brands with which Vice may want to partner one day, and because Vice doesn't exactly have a spotless labor record, but such is life. All that out of the way: I wrote a bunch of things for Vice that I never linked to here.
I love you all. Happy Wednesday.

New Hampshire makes life harder for military recruiters

The state of New Hampshire has just passed a law that bars schools from handing over "test results, detailed demographic information, and social security numbers to military recruiting services without the consent of parents," according to the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy (NCPSP).

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, was signed into law on July 14 by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. Specifically, it bars schools from handing over data to recruiters obtained through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, which is ostensibly a vocational test administered by the Department of Defense. However, New Hampshire schools are still required by the No Child Left Behind law to hand over so-called "directory information" to military recruiters -- names, addresses and phone numbers -- unless parents explicitly object (and even then, there's still no guarantee their child's information isn't being stored in a Pentagon database).

The victory, albeit small, comes after a similar bill was defeated earlier this year by Democrats in Connecticut, which I wrote about for Rupert Murdoch. The difference this time, according NCPSP director Pat Elder, was that the lobbying campaign was much more low-key.

"We didn't mention it publicly," Elder told me, which meant opponents "were caught off guard." New Hampshire is the third state to enact such legislation, joining Maryland and Hawaii.

Families rally for Gaza, old people for Israel

On Sunday, hundreds of people in Los Angeles attended a rally for Gaza. I attended that rally and wrote about it. I also took pictures, which I once again don't feel like embedding on this decrepit website, so if you're at all interested, go over here.

You're looking nice today.

The modern American breadline

Look, I have a fancy new url that I paid good money for -- www.FreeCharlesDavis.com -- and it's a real pain to cross-post pieces that have embedded images and I don't feel like wasting 20 minutes dealing with formatting issues, so: go read my latest, "The modern American breadline," over at the other place.

Good day to you.

Not all refugees can be Cuban

Were the state in question Cuba or Venezuela, the fact that it is deploying an “elite unit” of the national police to prevent people from leaving would feature prominently in US government propaganda. What kind of totalitarian hell-hole need deploy men with guns in order to stop parents from seeking a better life for their children? That fact alone would be cast as a condemnation of socialism and all those tyrants who stand opposed to the hegemonic desires of the freest country on the planet.

In this case, however, the totalitarian state is not an official enemy of the land of the free, but one of its clients, Honduras; that elite unit of the national police is “trained and funded by the United States,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times, just as those who launched the 2009 military coup d'état against the elected, center-left government of Manuel Zelaya, were trained and funded by the US government. As a result, the fact that Honduras is using force against innocent men, women and children fleeing the lack of opportunity in their country – in the wake of the coup, one of the world’s most violent – is not condemned like an East German in the 80s because there is nothing to gain; there is no way to spin the situation in Honduras as the fault of authoritarian socialists indifferent to the plight of their own people. Honduras is home to more US military bases than any other country in Central America and the only time it had a government that seemed mildly interested in pursuing economic policies independent of the United States that government was almost immediately overthrown with the tacit approval of the Obama administration.

As Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo noted at a pro-migrant rally earlier this month, the people coming to America “are products of our foreign policy.” There’s no spinning the humanitarian crisis in Honduras as the responsibility of Fidel Castro or international communism. It’s our fault – we did this – and so understandably silent are those who would otherwise be inclined to publicize the use of state violence against those fleeing misery for a better life in the land of the free.

Ana Maria Ramos and her two-year-old son are the sort of people this joint US-Honduran operation is keeping out. Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times after she was stopped at a US-funded police checkpoint in Honduras, she explained her reasons for wanting to leave everything behind.
"I don't want my boy to grow up in such a violent environment,” said Ramos. “I don't want him to see the violence and learn it. I don't want this for my son.”

Police forbade her from leaving the country because she did not have a notarized authorization of consent from the boy’s father, a legal requirement that it’s not hard to see harming those who are fleeing not just state and economic violence, but a violent, abusive partner. And that’s the sort of thing the US government is now doing so that Barack Obama can look “tough” on refugees, which in a sick political culture is generally viewed as a good thing to be. If you want to be welcomed here, it helps to have a strong pitching arm and the ability to serve as propaganda for US foreign policy; if you are a product of that policy, sorry, but you are out of luck.

(via Mr. Henry Krinkle)
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