Review: Our Divided City – PBS Kansas City

Kansas City is known as a bastion of history.  From western folklore, to blues music, to barbecue, Kansas City, on both sides of the river, has a tremendous cultural past, and is not truly valued as either should be.

Kansas City on the Missouri side has a big problem when it comes to housing, and always has.  For one, the city has a historic black neighborhood, that is considered to be physically marked by Troost Avenue.  Every neighborhood east of that main arterial is labeled as predominantly black, by municipal agencies, and in Our Divided City, an investigative journalism piece by PBS, is labeled as a segregated community.  The inference they make is that white people in Kansas City are keeping black people in this one part of the city, which accounts for the neighborhoods: Wendell Phillips, Boston Heights/Mt. Hope, Santa Fe, Oak Park, Palestine, Ivanhoe, Seven Oaks, South Round Top, Washington-Wheatley, Manheim Park, 23rd Street PAC,  Key Coalition, and Vineyard.

Anyone can look on at the dated images provided at Google Maps, and see that there is a major problem with boarded up houses, sitting in between occupied homes, or taking up half the block, where one person is by themselves, among what can only be described as a major fire trap waiting for a match.  But these houses attract occupants. Squatters on occasion, but criminals mostly.  Kansas City has a problem with youthful violence, some of it linked to gangs, a lot of the violence is linked to disputes among young men who are neighbors.  The story is just another iteration of one we hear over and over again, and no matter what resources are thrown at the problem, nothing changes.

In this case, KCMO Police have come up with the NoVA program, which stands for Kansas City No Violence Alliance.  The PBS video only provides a cursory glance at the program, but apparently the program works as an intervention strategy to break the cycle of violence that young men in the community seemed to be destined for as soon as they walk outside their homes.  They show how police are hands off with citizens identified as being at risk for violent crime, they print up graphic-heavy invitations for each person identified, and then the police hand deliver them.  The meetings take place every quarter, and involves a lot of speeches from civic leaders, religious clergy, social workers, and community members affected by violence.

They also speak with one participant in the program who says he’s left the violence behind, but they never discuss what he’s doing instead, nor what the program has provided to help him out of the cycle.  Since it is a new approach to addressing violent crime, no doubt there is success.  The true measure of such a program is whether it will have sustained success.

They then cut back to the Oak Park neighborhood, where this video began, to show the handful of neighbors in communication with one another, discussing a drug dealer who lives nearby, who is dealing directly out of the house, with cars passing through the neighborhood at all hours of day and night.  What makes this worse is that the citizens, who talk quite openly about their experience trying to remove people from the neighborhood involved in crime.  Their revelations?  Drug dealers threaten violence towards them.  Which should probably come as a big shock to everyone, since we’ve listened ad-nausea to the last nine or ten years of national media coverage on the topic of non-violent drug offenders, which include drug dealers, who are in prison for what is termed “lengthy” sentences.  Why so much concern?  Because these drug dealers are non-violent.  And yet, right here, on PBS film, we have citizens complaining that drug dealers in their neighborhood threaten violence against these tax-paying citizens for simply not wanting crime in their neighborhood.  But that’s not all.  On man in the film, Mr. Hill  describes how he has to carry a long gun, with a bed sheet over it to case a silhouette, to send the message to this drug dealer not to cause him harm.  Sounds like a very a non-violent situation, doesn’t it?

In another earlier segment linked to this part of the film, a very nice elderly couple talks about how they were singled out multiple times on their own street, in front of their house by who they termed as drug dealers, who stated “We’re going to kill you and all your family,” if the couple didn’t stop organizing their neighbors and putting pressure on drug dealers to stop committing crime.  Getting back to Mr. Hill, he contributes burglary, theft, extensive vandalism, and auto theft to the drug dealer on his street.  This couple makes similar inferences about the groups of drug dealers they are contending with.

I do wonder when we as a society are going to refute this mantra about drug dealers and how “non-violent” they are.  They tend to get caught dealing drugs, because that is the bulk of their activity, and drug crimes are the easiest cases to prosecute in the United States.  Theft and burglary is not very easy at all.  Sure, people get caught for these things, but for one burglar caught, there’s somewhere between 10 and 15 unsolved burglaries, on national average.  Adding another consideration here, how many times have you read about burglaries that have gone wrong?  In some, the criminals shoot home owners, in some home owners shoot criminals.  Does any of this sound non-violent to you?  Crime is a problem, because most assuredly crime only breeds more crime, especially when left unchecked.

The film moves to the Washington-Wheatley community where police have entered a vacant home, and arrested a felon on the run with a warrant.  The neighborhood reaction?  Celebration.  But in that same breath, the citizens bring up the fact of how many vacant houses are in their neighborhood.

And that brings us to our next portion of the film.  Vacant homes, trash, taxes, and a city hall pinned into it’s own system.

It turns out that with a cache of vacant houses, not only does it promote crime, but it promotes…..illegal dumping.  There’s way too much trash being dumped in these neighborhoods, that is clear.  The city has a public works function that conducts clean up of large piles of trash found in neighborhoods, usually within these vacant and empty lots.  The response time is awful, not even worth quoting.  But to make matters worse, the public works department cleaned up a lot that was reported and then promptly left their city logo branded trash bags on the sidewalk in front of the house.  It’s laughable to say the least, and while it amounts to two trash bags and a tire, it shows the ineffectiveness of leadership and expectations held within the public works department.  The concerned citizen calls in Mr. Hill, who we spoke of earlier, and he begins picking up the mess, and finding things that the public works staff didn’t find on the property, on the driveway.  Which really adds to the idea that the public works staff is not motivated to do a great service.

Mr. Hill then speaks on camera that he’s received several fines from the public works inspectors who are charged with enforcing building code on residential and commercial property, but that the home in question is owned by the city, and it has no gutters, eaves that are rotten and falling down, not mention busted windows, and an overall derelict appearance.  This is something that his property is not allowed at all, and he finds it unfair.

Which, on the surface is certainly accurate.  Especially with the current condition of vacant, city-owned homes, inspectors should be writing less infractions, and working with home owners in maintaining the property, especially if they live in the home, like Mr. Hill does.

However, the idea that the city should fix up these homes is silly, which is the suggestion made by Hill and the citizens he’s helping out with this trash pick-up.  When the city owns a property, they act as a surrogate, not a land owner, nor should they ever be in the business of being a land owner in that typical fashion.

There may be some some usefulness to them taking a few of these houses and fixing them up, and offer an incentive to police officers to live in them.  This type of program has been done before in specifically targeted low-income housing in other parts of the country, but this would be the first attempt at targeting what is considered a full-value neighborhood.  But considering the wide-spread problems of house blight, it is an idea that might actually rally the area.  And considering the pro-police view among the current home owners, this would be a welcome sight.

One point that PBS makes is that the year prior to filming, the city inspectors issued $660,000 worth of fines.  And it is likely that the city sees this fine system as a way to keep their public works budget in the black, in order to carry out what work they state they do, like trimming of weeds five times a year at each city owned house.

After a discussion about the lack of maintenance on city, there is more information about what Kansas City owns and doesn’t, and the numbers cause you to understand exactly what is causing the problem:  At the date of this film, city hall is in physical ownership of over 13,000 houses, within the area bounded by the mentioned neighborhoods.  It’s astounding that any form of government would have that much control over land within their jurisdiction, let alone a concentrated area.

The next segment of the film shows David Larrabee, an independently wealthy entrepreneur, who’s trying desperately to build a real estate market out of the blight, because as a person coming from the financial sector, he see’s that the only effective way of fixing this problem is creating a reasonable market, as in quality homes built and sold for well under what they would else.  In a sense, Larrabee is doing exactly what governments should be doing whenever they have this problem of abandoned homes, turn the government land grab into a private sector affair.  Unfortunately, Larrabee is facing issues with banks, who don’t see how he can be improving homes that originally trade on the city’s land bank trust.  Their issue is that the legal documents behind a home, like title, have questionable routes to how the city receives them, and who truly has a claim.  To give you further perspective, consider that if someone does have title rights to a home that Larrabee rebuilds, they could exercise title rights to the home in court, seeking removal of the person who purchased the home from Larrabee, which leaves the bank on the hook for the loan they authorized.  Which again, shows where government should be focusing their efforts.

In order to clear a path, government should be putting resources towards clearing the titles of the properties, rather than selling them as soon as they are in receivership, which is what this portion of the film is suggesting.

Mayor James appears again, and he discusses tax incentives given to developers, which the city school district has cried foul about.  And in a very quick and raw break down, the film makers suggest that the biggest tax incentives are found in the downtown core of Kansas City, and only a small amount are found in the northern end of the east side part of the city.

In this segment, the mayor receives a lot of quoted criticism, directly and indirectly, from various people who feel negatively impacted by his use of incentives.

The problem is that the idea is very skewed.  First, Kansas City’s downtown is heavily commercial in nature.  Commercial property holds much higher values than single family homes, by and large.  The idea that heavier incentives are in downtown is not nearly as big of a deal as the critics make it out to be, and it’s really their biggest red herring they launch into this discussion.

Second, when you look at the incentives given to the area in the far north of the east side, they are both developer-driven, and a big chunk of it is in commercial property…..so we’re not really re-inventing the wheel here.  Development groups in this day and age focus heavily on commercial ventures.  Any person with an 8th grade reading comprehension can spend a day reading a week’s worth of the Wall Street Journal and see that one of the biggest, stables, portion of the market is commercial real estate stock investment.  Whether we as a country want to admit it or not, commercial real estate is where the bulk of our investment and profit power resides.  If we want that to change, then we need to change our behaviors as individuals.  But I can tell you this, a place without commerce, is a place that will die, commune lifestyles do not succeed.  Look it up.

The next segment focuses on the police coming to a neighborhood on their own time to fully clean up a row of houses being used by criminals repeatedly.  It’s the feel good moment the tone of this unrelenting film needed.  But it comes with yet again, serious flaws in thinking.  The police are helping, neighbors are using chain saws to take out over grown trees, they have dumpsters to load everything into.  Even the fire department is out taking care of trash and debris.

The film catches up with John Wood, the housing director of Kansas City.  He’s the person in charge of the effort to deal with vacant homes, and manage their impact on the communities.

When he’s asked if he’s embarrassed by what he witnesses in the neighborhood he’s volunteering in that day, he shrugs that off, and says it causes him to want to work harder to find solutions.  And his solution?  More government power to exercise over disregarded homes, and he suggests that having power before the homes become forfeited due to back taxes.  I don’t know how he’s not embarrassed by that statement.  No one should be working to increase government power, and this statement alone should be alarming to residents.  The government doesn’t need more power.  If anything, the government needs to learn how to better use the power it’s already been given.

At your place of business, if an employee misses several crucial deadlines on a project, and they ask for more control of the project in order to meet demands, is that control given?  No, it isn’t.  This happens zero percent of the time.  In this case, the effort is no different.  It may be true that his agency is working at capacity, and has been flooded with forfeited homes, and doesn’t have the staff to compete in a sprint.  It’s more than likely that with a marathon pace, his agency can and will address each home.  But our expectations as consumers needs to temper.  Twitter may give us the ability to communicate with the world in seconds.  Convenience stores may allow us to purchase five items in the span of two minutes.  This doesn’t mean that the effort to cull a property, sell it at a tax auction, and keeping up with everything in between is going to happen in a week or a month.

If we truly care about our neighbors and our street, which if you’ve read any of my earlier work you know I’m a proponent of, then we have to dig our own two hands in, and government needs to facilitate, not manage, the problem.

Next they reflect on what has happened in the year during the filming process, and they speak with Major Joe McHale of KCMO Police, who had introduced us to the NoVA program earlier.  He was delighting in the fact that through August, they were on pace for a record low homicide count.  Most police departments look at the summer months as their worst in terms of violence and property crime.  Since it August was ending, and the trend was down, it would appear that Kansas City had every reason to look forward to a positive outlook in terms of crime.

And then September hit, and they had 22 homicides, not mention a slew of domestic and other violent crime that simply put the celebration on hold.  Major McHale suggests that it will be several years until they see impact.

The end message is mostly in unison, the Mayor, Major McHale, various citizens that were interviewed in the film saying that in the end, it comes down to the community coming together and stopping the violence, that government on it’s own can’t address it, the community as a whole needs to.

And it’s fitting that message finally shows up, because it should have been the entire message throughout the entire time.  There’s no reason why the community as a whole should not take a strong stance against violence.  There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a strong sense of community.

Throughout this film, we continue to see how the neighborhoods are not appealing, aren’t places that promote individual growth, and are breeding grounds for crime.  And yet these same people who are so vocally against it all, continue to blame government for their problems.

One segment that paints a different picture is one showing where the Nutter-Ivanhoe Neighborhood Center gets some brief coverage about what they provide to community members; gardening classes, after school tutoring, a number of other functions.

But considering what all these neighborhoods are experiencing, why is there not an aggressive plan to buy back all the vacant homes in the neighborhoods?  Why have none of these civic-minded people thought to do that?  It’s quite amazing that this doesn’t come up once in the film.

A second consideration:  if it’s difficult for the city to clean up these properties, why are they not attempting to contract out the work?  Or better yet, offer money to the community associations for the work?  Cleaning up of the properties, as in trash removal and landscaping, as the film suggests, could be done at very competitive prices at the ground level through the associations.  At first sight, I can see a scenario where the government pays $250 per property clean up, plus dumping expenses at the proper facilities.  It’s a win-win for these associations, who already employ people.  For one, they can employ more full time staff for this work, most likely offering the jobs to unemployed youth in the community, and can see their property values increase.  Why hasn’t anyone come up with that idea?

The KC Land Bank sells these properties at auction for what they feel is competitive pricing, meaning they cover the tax bill, and if there is a bidding war, perhaps a little extra, which is roundly absorbed by their housing function.

Well, why don’t they look their sale averages, and offer these properties to the community organizations for half the price?  It gets government out of the land owner business, and it gives the communities greater control over what happens within their neighborhoods.  And before you swear this idea off, a quick glance at Kansas City Land Bank shows that most of these houses are selling for less than 500 dollars.  I can’t imagine that these community organizations couldn’t come up with money to get a hold of all these properties, even one by one if necessary.  With these organizations being the major holders of property, they could be the one’s with the power to decide who to sell them to for development purposes.  And with each of these people in these organizations having relationships with local banks on personal level, it makes it difficult for the banks not to want to finance projects to fix the houses for resale, or to approve a third party who fix the houses, sells them, and asks for appraisal and inspection, to get a proper review that is reflective of the revitalization effort.

One major complaint throughout the film is that there are liquor stores abound, but no place for typical commerce, like groceries, coffee shops, and such.  If the neighborhood organizations become the major land owner in the area, they could potentially have enough property in one concentration to reveal a potential location for re-zoning and the introduction of layered commercial ventures, with a focus on neighborhood members owning the businesses.  Again, why anyone in these communities wouldn’t try to take this on, I find it puzzling.

There are very easy fixes to this situation, and the people profiled in the film could work towards all of them, if their interests were in empowering the community.  I sure hope they are, because East Kansas City looks like they use it, and this could start a whole new way for neighborhood and community centers to repair their forgotten streets.

In the end, what I got out of this film was that the city needs to work harder to clear off and validate a clean title to transfer these properties, they need to focus on handing these properties off to these neighborhood organizations, and these organizations need to empower themselves by cleaning up the trash, and not waiting for the government.

Friday Night Opinion: Minneapolis Mayoral Candidate Doesn’t Want Armed Police

Raymond Dehn is a liberal mayoral candidate for the City of Minneapolis.  Honestly, I could stop writing at this point, and the title and this sentence would explain itself.

But I will continue, because it’s really worth discussing, not to mention the response from the current mayor, and everyone’s favorite white woman to hate this month, Betsy Hodges.

Dehn, coming off the “high” of winning the vote at the Democratic Farmer Labor convention, a Minnesota affair that unquestionably relies on communist values, decided to open up to the media at random about his plan concerning the Minneapolis Police Department.

As you may recall, a shooting death just occurred in the southwest part of the city, where Justine Damond was killed by Officer Mohamed Noor while trying to report a sexual assault.  The reasons for his decision are not clear because he’s refusing to make a statement, and appears to be awaiting the conclusion of the investigation, which will undoubtedly bring charges against him.

But Dehn has decided to prove himself, and his ultra-liberal values, to be exactly what they reveal themselves to be over and over again, knee-jerk.

He’s decided that disarming MPD is the appropriate “reform” in light of this single incident.  Take note, that MPD has not had any use of force incidents under federal review since 2006, and while they have experienced accusations of racism, both internally and externally, maintain a healthy track record of appropriate force, as compared to other large urban communities.  This one incident is an outliar to all the good work done by MPD officers.

But when you’re a liberal, trying to overtake a liberal, you have to say more outrageous things they have said in order to get that coveted news microphone in front of your face, so Dehn stated that MPD officers shouldn’t have their firearms, and that their only access should be within their cars.  He then made a bunch of reinforcement statements stating that this was really important.

So, I don’t assume anyone’s political ties, and I don’t go out of my way to badger either side, but I am taking my tone with this, because this is the quintessential ‘out of touch’ liberal that conservatives talk about, by and large.  If you’re a liberal reading this, and you’ve ever asked conservatives you know what their problem with your side of the sandbox is, this is it.  People like this on the left exist, and they shouldn’t be allowed to represent the left, let alone speak out loud in public.

Dehn makes his one point, albeit a small one, when you compare it to the amount of things that the left and right disagree about, but when conservatives discuss why the left is wrong, he is the classic example.  If you are a liberal, you should not be supporting this guy.  You should not condone what he’s saying.  You should tell all your friends in Minneapolis not to vote for him.  I say this, not because I want to tell you what to do, I say this because if we’re ever going to reach a place in this country where logic and reason rule the day, and not feelings, we’re going to have to exclude people like Dehn, who reacts with his feelings, and has no experience in law enforcement, other than apparently serving as a State Representative where he’s not even completed his first term on the Public Safety Committee.

He lacks key experience, and he lacks context, and he’s trying to make up for it by saying outlandish things that incite certain people to feel like he’s a savior.  Well, he’s not.  He’s trying to get people killed, mainly officers.  And if he’s not, then he hasn’t thought his stance and it’s consequences through.

This month alone, three officers, and two K-9 dogs have been killed by gunfire.  One officer, Lieutenant Aaron Allen of the Southport Police Department in Indiana, died less then 48 hours after Dehn’s statement was made, by a person who’s car had rolled over during a collision, when that person exited the vehicle and shot him.  Lt. Allen came to save people trapped in a car, and doesn’t get to return to his family because of it.  The outcome unfortunately would not be any different, but imagine being told at your job there’s a solid chance you’re going to get shot at for simply being associated with said job, and you’re not allowed to have adequate tools to defend yourself.

This is why Dehn’s big idea (or rather, mouth) is useless, and it is exactly why liberal more than any other group need to reject him.  He’s not safe as a leader, and I would imagine he’s gotten away thus far as a junior representative, and sitting one various boards because he hasn’t taken any hard positions prior to this.

But his big mouth, er…idea, brought on an interesting response from the Mayor.

And I quote, “And if we’re going to talk about changes in gun policy, we shouldn’t start with police officers, who are going to be operating in a world with people who have guns.”

She places a lot of inflection on the word ‘start,’ and it probably doesn’t surprise too many that a far-left liberal would make a state indicative of their belief that disarming citizens is the answer.  But she says start, as in, “disarming police could eventually be an option, but that whole second amendment of the Constitution is getting in the way of this progress, so we’ll have to really work on removing the second amendment.

Look, they both are saying things typical of the current climate, both politically and socially, so this one outburst doesn’t really get the coverage it deserves.  Quite frankly, there was a time when someone like Dehn would be automatically disqualified from running or continuing to serve in office for making such a statement, and that standard shouldn’t be any different today.  The need for armed law enforcement in the US is stronger now than every before.  Ambushes, planned shootings, hi-jacking of buildings, schools, and the list of violent acts continue to rage on in this country.  And let’s not forget that a mere three years ago we had half a dozen incidents of attempted or carried-out beheadings in the US.  Only with a view of one’s backyard exclusively could anyone say that disarming police in the US is an option.  And the fact that Mayor Hodges has tipped her hand, with the intent on disarming Minneapolis citizens is not just mere fodder, but a real window in to the city that Dern, she, and other like-minded liberals have in mind.

Disarming police so they can die faster in the streets isn’t going to bring Justine Damond back.  The thought is such a disgusting tribute to the loss of her, that it is insulting to the family.  That her name would ultimately be associated with all the MPD officers killed in the line of duty is abominable.  But quite frankly, that’s the sort of thing that a knee-jerk politician like Dehn would love.  His name minimally attached, and a victim of poor judgment linked, so that our voting public in that future era would have a hard time weighing truth.

People like Dehn and Hodges are opportunists, and their type of behavior is not solely on the left, it just happens that this example presented itself now.

They are part of the problem.  All of us need to be part of the solution.  Don’t vote Dehn, don’t re-elect Hodges.  Get them out.

What Global Aid is Really Telling the US

I’ve been thinking a lot about global aid efforts we in the US put on, both through out taxes, and through our own checkbooks.

In the course of reading about the issue, I also watched the documentary, Poverty, Inc. which was released in 2015.

The recent data, results, and of course responses by people in South America, the Caribbean, and Africa has been astounding to say the least:  they don’t want our help anymore.

The documentary has shed light on the personal experience of those “helped,” or rather, hindered, by aid work and it’s fruits, which further hamper locals from establishing commerce, which in turn helps them sustain their own lifestyle, homes, and families.

It’s quite a bizarre situation.  Since the late 60’s, when television news began corresponding from world locations other than where US military efforts were commencing, when the people in Biafra succeeded from Nigeria, US citizens pounded down the doors of the Nixon administration, demanding we send aid to children and parents, visibly dying of starvation on camera.

Ever since then, the global aid effort has turned into industry, says the documentary, and numerous other experts in the field of economics, who are showing that global aid’s only interest is itself…..sound familiar?

But the personal stories in the film are what expresses it in unfiltered, uninterrupted truth.

There are people in Haiti, who place their children in orphanages, not out of necessity, but because they can’t support children – with the inability to seek work, which is destroyed by all the subsidized food currently in the country.  In 2010, President Bill Clinton brought in tons of rice, and to this date, there are still bags of subsidized rice in country, which decimated the rice farming industry in Haiti, which was fragile to begin with, but sustainable on it’s own.

There’s examples from Rwanda, where people were re-building their own farming community, but in the aftermath of genocidal war, a well-meaning church in the US began sending bulk eggs to the community, circumventing the efforts of one young man, who had long since invested in coups, chickens, and feed to start his own egg business.  Instead, he had to sell everything, and once that happened, they church decided to lay their eggs elsewhere in Africa, which then meant the community would have to buy eggs, from another community down the road.

The examples given provide an overwhelming theme:  Aid organizations, intentionally or not, are eliminating poor people’s ability to start their own business, from relying upon themselves, from becoming self-sufficient.  Does that sound familiar?

The film, along with all the recent data suggests that our best effort, if we are to continue providing aid, is do so in short bursts, when disaster strikes, but that once the people, not their less than representative governments, say it’s time to go, we need to take all our toys, people, and resources, and get out of dodge.

Many reviews of Poverty, Inc. suggest that it’s tone is lighter, and not as critical.  I admit, towards the end, the people being interviewed do try to soften the blow.  But their tone is consistent.  They believe US citizens, along with their aid organizations, are misinformed, misguided, and rooted in colonialism.  They even identify the owner of Toms Shoes as being one of the most colonial-oriented people of the 21st century.  To be blunt, all of these people affected by Global Aid efforts couldn’t be more blunt themselves: Please stop helping us.

Sadly, much of this effort is paid for by taxes raised in the US.  That money is sent directly by our government, or re-directed to non-profits, that in turn spend that money on their efforts.  The film exposes organizations spending much of their money on top of the line vehicles for the country they operate in, paying absorbent salaries to staff, and hiring……house staff!  And here’s the kicker in that situation, they don’t pay at US rates for labor, they pay at the local rate….typically a fraction of a dollar per hour.  Talk about aid!

The help they do need comes from a strong need for the laws in their country to change, so that people can go into business for themselves easily.  And these people believe we could help that effort, espeically these aid groups.  But no one does.  There are countless examples of these people being asked over and over to help in that effort, and what do they do?  Avoid answering, waffle, cower, anything besides help, which is the whole reason they are there to begin with.

Not surprising, the biggest defenders of what is now a multi-billion dollar industry, liberal academics, and celebrities, who try to explain away the data, and most of all the voices of those affected, as scuttle.

For me, that’s the nail in the coffin.  If the US wants to return to it’s powerhouse status, without all the bloat, it’s time we turned off the faucet overseas.  Because the help we give is not wanted, and the help that is needed, we still refuse to offer.

Everything is Stupid: Marijuana enters the Prenatal Care Industry

A friend of mine recently conveyed to me that during a prenatal visit to his wife’s OB/GYN, she described how she was concerned with the quality of birth, as she read studies about births that turned into emergency C-sections.

The doctor’s response?  A prescription of medical marijuana.  Yes, you read that correctly, marijuana, as in the narcotic.

They happen to be in a State where marijuana is legal, so I suppose the prescription just makes it so they pay a set price, and not market value, which who knows what that is.

What I can tell you is they didn’t get it filled, thankfully.  The use of marijuana in this context, which really seems illegal, even if the drug is now legal there, also seems ill-advised.  You want a pregnant woman to ingest marijuana, due to her overall concern of a potential bad birth, so your answer to prescribe marijuana right now, several months before the actual birth occurs.

My friend and his wife asked a similar question, and the response from the doctor was “I read a study that said marijuana helps with creating successful births, showing a 500% success rate.”

Well, if ever there was a person peddling bs…..

Regardless of how idiotic this doctor appears, this got me thinking.  Is marijuana now being used in prenatal care?  Surely this can’t be a large scale issue, right?  I mean, pregnancy…..DRUGS…..they don’t mix well at all.  We know this, right?

As it turns out, we don’t.

There are bunch of articles describing surveys, and testimonials of women using marijuana to cure morning sickness.  And while one of the original intents behind medical grade marijuana was to address nausea of cancer patients, using it in this situation is simply bad, bad, awful.

It’s well documented that narcotic use while pregnant will lead to behavioral problems in a child as they become a toddler, adolescent, teen, and eventually an adult.

But if that’s not enough, the content I discovered also ADVOCATES for women to have the “choice” of using marijuana to cure morning sickness, and squarely blames pro-life policies as the reason that prevents many of them to access cannabis.

Are you reading that?  It’s all pro-lifers fault that women can’t irreparably harm their children in the womb, again!

I seriously can’t believe that as we advance into the technology age that there are enough people in various professions to actually advocate for one the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of.

This isn’t even a slippery slope argument, it’s a no slope argument.  These people have no argument, they’re plain stupid, and not only do they not deserve to have access to the internet, they don’t deserve to be in their positions.

I read one such “expert,” who I’m not going to name, because she doesn’t deserve any additional attention.  Her credentials:  She’s an Ivy-League educated lawyer in charge of an organization centered on women, and mostly their rights to abortion.

But she’s also taken up this cause, and thinks that we need to have a “serious” talk about legal and political systems that are preventing nauseated women from accessing narcotics while pregnant.  I can’t make this stuff up!

What’s next, heroin from postpartum depression?  Don’t pretend like that’s not the next thing you’re going to hear from this same crowd.

I admit, I’m not a doctor.  But you don’t have to be to know marijuana exposure in the womb, as legitimate treatment, is one of the stupidest things spoken from any intellectual crowd.

But I guess that’s the age we live in, where everything is stupid.

Friday Night Opinion: Chattanooga Councilwoman Entitled on Traffic Stop

Last week we had Varnell, Georgia, and earlier this week, FNO examines the actions of a councilwoman in Chattanooga, a mere 28 miles northwest of Varnell.

Her name is Demetrus Coonrod, and this isn’t her first time gaining negative attention she claims to be racist, and has been arrested for among other things, child abuse.

Recently, the Chattanooga Times Free Press posted this video of Coonrod acting belligerent with a female officer from Chattanooga Police Department, for issuing traffic citations to the male driver of the vehicle, apparently owned by the councilwoman.

She calls either the Police Chief or an Assistant Chief of CPD after the traffic stop had concluded.  She requires the officer to standby, and wants a Sergeant present, and it’s clear she wants to protest the citations issued, which were well within the bounds of the law.

I’ll be quick on this one, because there’s enough source material here for you to draw your own conclusion.

But I have to ask you, is this truly the kind of council person you want representing you?  A person who wants special treatment because of their position, including avoiding responsibility for their traffic law infractions.

You may not be aware, but this type of behavior, left unchecked, is exactly how a person starts down a road where they embezzle funds, use their position to award contracts and jobs to family and friends, and all other unethical behavior in office you can think of.

Don’t believe me?  Well, I’ll point you to an acquaintance of mine from years ago, Paul Winfield.

Paul and I met at the Main Streets Conference held in Oklahoma City in 2010.  He’s a great person, or so I thought.  If you read that article in the link, you’ll get a rundown of what he did in office.  The sad thing is, I met him around the beginning of his term as Mayor of Vicksburg, and it can be said he was at the conference trying to find answers to revitalizing a city in Mississippi that all of us should be proud of.  It’s one home of the Blues.

Unfortunately, as you fast forward through his career, you find that Paul found it easier to take shortcuts, and by the end of it all he wound up in federal prison, losing his wife, his life, his name, and mired the city offices of Vicksburg into turmoil.

He also was stripped of his bar certification, which I know was hard to obtain, and not something he could have cheated at.  All that hard work, just to implode in the face of typical challenges.

Unfortunately, it is this type of character flaw that can be hard to find before it shows itself.

However, in the case of Ms. Coonrod, it’s already shown itself.  A serial-armed robber, a child abuser, a self-proclaimed racist, someone who can’t follow the simple rules of early release she was awarded for her testimony against corrupt corrections officers.

She showed us all a long time ago who she was and what she was about.  Apparently the citizens in Chattanooga are forgiving souls, and they gave her a chance.

But this is less than three months into her first term, and it’s only going to get worse from here.  If they let her stay in office, it will support her behavior, and she will become even more brazen.  Because that’s her personality, and that’s all she’ll ever be.

I hope for Chattanooga’s sake, a town I hold dearly, if for nothing else, that they are home to my favorite barbecue restaurant, Sugar’s Ribs, that they are less forgiving this time around, and remove Ms. Coonrod from office.

If you want to get involved, please write an email to Mayor Andy Berke, and let him know why Ms. Coonrod should not be in office.

Walk with Warriors – Advance Orders

I’ve mentioned briefly, in several places on the internet that Walk with Warriors is coming out soon, and that I’m taking advance orders.

For those that don’t know, advance orders are those that come directly to me, I then personally sign a copy (or copies) to you, and ship them to you.

The book contains one short story from me, about an experience I had while serving in the Army, that defined me.  And, the book features stories from 21 other veterans, just like me, talking about a piece of their experience.

Buying a copy from me directly now means that I will receive it prior to the publishing date, and I personalize and sign the book, to whatever your request may be.

The cost is $13.99, and I ship directly to you, so you won’t have to worry about monitoring your mail, I ship and contact you as soon as yours goes out.

If you’re interested, please use the contact form on this site.

The book will be available on Amazon in September (2017), I don’t have the exact launch date at this time, that part is out of my hands.

I thank all that supported this project that I’m part of, and am forever grateful for those that have stepped up and been better to me than I probably deserve.

-Matthew

Review: Frontline’s ‘Chasing Heroin’

Last February, Frontline put out an investigative journalism film called ‘Chasing Heroin’ and the story focuses on Seattle, Washington and the various government agencies involved in trying to mitigate heroin use through the use of a drug court, and alternative sentencing.

They also try to bring some sense to how the US opioid epidemic came about.  Mostly, they blame two things:

1.  That doctors in the US were not treating pain symptoms appropriately, as in not at all.

2.  That Purdue Pharma was using junk science to pass OxyContin as a ‘wonder drug’ in lieu of the Hospice-Home Care era that arose in the middle 00’s.  As they entered that market, which at the time primarily had end-stage cancer patients, they used the successes to expand their market into all patient markets, with a major focus on primary care physicians.

If you follow federal court, you know that Purdue ultimately admitted to a bad marketing, aggressive sales tactics, and too much junk science to acknowledge.  They’ve paid dearly, and continue to be listed as respondents in lawsuits; I could argue that the penalties are not enough, but that’s for another time.

As the story unfolds, there is an emphasis on the idea of alternative treatments.

Early on, they focus on Bremerton, a small town across the Puget Sound from Seattle, that was an early hot spot for the Mexican cartel-influenced heroin trade that came in the wake of pain pill prescriptions being halted.  The Mayor, Patty Lent attempted to bring a methadone clinic to the town, because almost overnight they were deluged in heroin, and it’s after affects.

But many citizens didn’t want it.  They were aware of the methadone clinic in Seattle, and the type of neighborhood it had become, only after the clinic opened.  The Seattle Times has covered that topic several times since the clinic opened, and they’ve claimed that Seattle Police do not actively response to the area for petty crime, because the calls come in so frequently, they don’t have the manpower to address each and every call.  That idea has also been proven inaccurate, but it seems to show that media does as much to counter methadone clinics, as they seem to do in support of them.

At any rate, the citizens overwhelmingly showed no support for the Mayor’s initiative to bring a clinic to town, and that was that.  Frontline’s piece attributes 40 overdoses have occurred in Kitsap County since the measure was shot down.  They frame it an arrogant attempt and holding citizens responsible.

In the next segment, they play a short montage, with audio overlays of television news segments where the lead is that half of inmates in federal prison are in for non-violent drug offenses.  The problem with this statement is that non-violent drug offenses is used to describe any person who is charged under the Narcotics Act, who also does not have a violent crime attached.  I’ll discuss why that context is important later.

And from that montage, they go right into a quick analysis of Seattle’s drug court.  They talk about the basis of the court is that drug addicts sign their rights away to a trial, and that they admit to being guilty of the charges presented to the judge, meaning that they can be sentenced immediately.  However, that stick is used to get them to choose the “carrot” of treatment, and other alternative sentencing, like anger management, victim encounters, and so forth.  It’s in this segment that we get our first taste of what drug court really is.  Cari Cresia is followed from the introductory segment throughout the film, and she returns in this segment, facing a small prison sentence of one or two years for the crimes she’s been charged with.  In her discussion with Frontline’s film crew after the appearance, she mentions briefly that the charges involve her dealing narcotics.

I didn’t introduce you to Cresia in the start of this review, because I wanted to make the point:  This concept, of drug addicts in Seattle’s drug court graduating from drug use to drug dealing is happening with far too frequency.  And in this film, you’re going to see it again.

Cresia admits on camera that she started small, and then ultimately was selling in large quantities, and implicates herself that she was involved with a drug cartel, and then tries to soften the information by saying her involvement was indirect, removed by one person……sounds interesting.

Then in comes Michael Botticelli, who at the time of the film was the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  He admits to having been in a DUI accident in 1988.  A judge offered him treatment, or jail time.  He took treatment, and has been a lightning rod for alternative sentencing and treatment of addiction-based crimes ever since.  One point to make here is that Botticelli, despite all his credentials, and his sincerity about his efforts on this front, he never mentions what happened in that accident back in 1988.  If it was his first offense, why was a judge so privy to offering him treatment as a way to remedy the sentence?  While by today’s standard the situation makes sense, that wasn’t really the case in the 80’s.  Alternative sentencing really didn’t take hold anywhere until the late 90’s, and even then it was rare.  I’m sure there’s not nefarious to the story, but it does seem curious that he would lend this story out as his credibility for being in the room, but only tell part of it.

Next we here from the King on Nonsense, Eric Holder, who talks about his time as a judge in Washington D.C., where he was forced to issue mandatory minimum sentences to people who were dealing drugs “in a non-violent way.”  Which is funny to hear.  Holder served as a judge in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the District.  This also coincides with record homicide rates, directly attributed to the drug “trade,” as in dealers.  So in this section, nonsense fully prevails.

The parts where they juxtapose court hearings into the film, show that the attempt here is for people, prosecutors, judges, counselors, and so on, who have no direct relationship with the offenders, and all collectively try to force them into treatment, programs, and slew of other alternative sentencing structures, that are suppose to set these offenders up for success.

But what it seems like is just another meat grinder, trying to push people fast, fast, fast, and hoping for the best.  And the long these drug courts operate, the longer they can substantiate themselves with statistics, studies, results, and all the social science one comes to expect as being legitimate for any cause.

“Gaylan” was featured in the tail end of this segment, and he’s a ‘failure’ in the eyes of drug court.  He’s down to his last ‘point’ as they refer to it, before he’s automatically sentenced between 60 to 120 months for the crimes he’s committed over his time in drug court.  He doesn’t receive the early release that he desires, and as soon as he completes the program he’s assigned to, goes right back out to shoot heroin.  He even flashes what he says is 350 dollars worth of heroin, as he and another male setup their syringes and shoot heroin on an outdoor staircase, while Frontline is filming.  I wonder where he got the money from.

Next, we’re exposed to Seattle’s LEAD program, short for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.  And the explanation given by Lieutenant Mills from Washington State Department of Corrections doesn’t make sense.  At first she says they defer drug addicts to the program.  Then she’s asked if they defer everyone, and she say’s no.  Then when she’s asked to explain, she bluntly points out that the program is about counseling, and again, alternative sentencing measures.

Except for the fact that we’re not even talking about a judge at this point.  So is she saying that police are empowered to make a “judgment” about a person and what they can handle for treatment?

They bring in an unidentified male from the street with loads of needles and paraphernalia, and judging from his disposition, is very high.  They present him in front of a counselor, and she starts reeling of treatment options.

Mikel Kowalcyk is the counselor, and we get to hear a lot from her in this segment, and she does a great job of explaining what LEAD…..it’s an attempt not to stop drug use, but to stop all the other crime that drug addicts commit, like theft, trespassing, and safety issues like overdosing.  What this begins to sound like is a very calculated plan to appear like a helpful approach to helping addicts, when it is in fact a way to stop businesses and non-addict residents from having to confront drug addicts on a daily basis in one form or another, keep those productive people from leaving the city, and keep property values up.  Obviously there’s someone up above who knows how to feed the line personnel a lot of nonsense, while still achieving a goal of being a land of liberal thought, and concealing the real problems of the community at large.

Then we get a peak into a LEAD meeting, which are conveyed twice a month, involving all the members of the team that are charged with mitigating these offenders.  One of the members, a case manager, speaks in the meetings in a way that suggests that she believes she knows everything better than virtually everyone else in the room, including law enforcement officers.  And judging from the reactions, she’s someone special, because it’s clear this is par for the course.

That case manager then sits down with Kristina Block, another heroin addict, for her initial intake.  And the spiel she gives the offender only furthers the point of this program, when she says they’re looking to increase her “quality of life.”  And we’ll talk about that more in awhile.

As her intake session hums along, it’s both tragic and alarming.  For one, she’s already admitting to “sometimes” dealing.  But then she talks about all the other crime she involved in, shoplifting, “boosting,” which is an organized form of shoplifting that involves multiple people raiding a particular item from several locations, and selling them to a “fence” for a predetermined amount.  All in all, she is bringing in $1,000 dollars a week from these efforts, in her words.  But then all of it is going to “dope.”

And in comes Lisa Daugaard, from the King County Public Defender’s Office.  In the 80’s and 90’s, when crack hit Seattle heavy, like every other community that faced the drug, police departments employed undercover, and stake out units to strike open air drug markets.  Unfortunately, for SPD, Daugaard saw an opportunity to accuse them of racial bias in their arrests, by staging statistics that suggested they were four times more likely to arrest black drug offenders, than white.  The problem is that this accusation doesn’t look at the specific issue Seattle was facing.  First, the crack epidemic in Seattle specifically affected black populations.  The few people who were not black that were affected by it, were literally so few and far between, that the areas known for the drug, would not be places they would frequent on extended stays.  Consequently, the people spending the most time there were drug dealers, and addicts with nowhere else to go, and this is how the city block known as “The Blade” came about years ago, which is also featured in Frontline’s piece.

Daugaard sued SPD, who ended up settling, but the settlement was to create an alternative program for drug offenders.  Honestly, SPD should have fought Daugaard.

And with her arrival, she explains, along with Dan Satterberg from the Prosecutor’s Office, how this program was formed, what it took to be deployed, and then they talk about their being spotlighted by the Obama Administration as a model program.

And here comes the faux-statistics to make the program seem legitimate.  They had the University of Washington track the program, and it shows that participants are 58% less likely to be arrested.  Which sounds wildly successful.

Except, you have to factor in the fact that every person in the program is getting “arrested” on daily basis by the officers in the LEAD program, they just aren’t being charged.  Fake statistics, you gotta love them!

At this point, we catch up with Kristina, who’s not participating in the program, and is merely using the needle exchange portion, and boy is she loading up needles.  I mean, A LOT of needles.

Then she’s back out the door, talking on speaker phone, and she’s..you guessed it….dealing!  She’s ramped up her dealing efforts.  Fantastic!

She meets up with a guy in a silver BMW, who she picks up dope from to sell.  And now her “business” of selling has consumed her whole lifestyle.

So not only has King County Drug Court, but now this wonderful LEAD Program is graduating drug addicts to drug dealing…..so much for reducing crime!

In the final portion of this segment, Frontline makes a push to promote Suboxone, a receptor-blocking drug that makes heroin useless to heroin users.

That case manager we talked about earlier is in the next scene, trying to find Kristina, who is in the wind.  She finds her, in what I believe to be an area near Westlake, judging from the scenery, I could be mistaken.

Kristina professes her angst….she’s out of money, she’s out of dope, she’s sleeping on the sidewalks of Seattle, and it’s fall, so that means she’s contending with freezing rain overnight.  They profiled Kristina’s dad in this and they have what I would call a casual relationship, and it makes me wonder why it is his daughter doesn’t feel safe enough to go home in the midst of a Seattle winter hitting.  I doubt he’s hurting or abusing her, but I wonder what has devolved so badly she can’t sleep at his house, since earlier in the film he describes how seriously concerned he is for her.

In the end, Cari ends up with a bad drug test, and ruins her drug court program.  Kristina winds up hitting rock bottom in an ICU with a heart and lung infection.

What we do know from this program, is that most of the participants want to survive and spread their program, and they’re willing to lie about the true results of their program.  And make no mistake about it, LEAD is a direct effort of certain people in Seattle to remove arrests from statistics, and pretend they’ve lowered the crime rate.

It’s noble that people felt that coming up with a different approach to heroin, and all drugs for that matter, was worth doing.  But what’s clear from their own testimonial, is that the experts don’t have an answer for the problems.

You’re still on your own.

 

 

Review: Under The Sun

Under The Sun released last year, and in terms of documentaries, is as unlikely of a film as you can get.

The director, Vitaly Mansky, agreed to produce a film through the North Korean government’s delegation that handles media.  They met at a film festival in Russia the year before, and then in 2013, filming began in Pyongyang.

The film was even cast by government officials, where they placed a family in the midst of careers that didn’t exist, and used the real life trajectory of their daughter, Zin-Mi, age 9, as to be joining the Children’s Union, which is North Korea’s equivalent to Nazi Youth, sans knives and rifle practice.

What Mansky had to do to capture the true essence of North Korean life is  fascinating.  For one, he had to disguise the fact that his cameras were loaded with two memory cards.  He also had to disguise the fact that his cameras were rolling, every second of exposure.

He also hired a Russian female who knew Korean, and taught her lighting, so that on set, she could hear what the government film directors were saying, so she would be able to forewarn the crew of what was coming next.

The film is nothing short of brilliant.  It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time.  Understand however, the film is excellent, it is one of the saddest tales I’ve ever seen, and you’ll likely conclude the same.

Zin-Mi cries during a couple of the scenes, and no adult cares to comfort her.  Instead they summarily tell her to stop crying, and suggest they continue dancing (Zin-Mi in one scene is learning traditional Korean dance, which is complicated to say the least), in another she should stop for the sake of the scene.

It’s also made clear that workers in any job, must stay at worker’s barracks that are next door to their factories, likely out of concerns of “efficiency,” and children are forced to stay at dorms next to their school.

It’s quite clear that the concept of family means nothing to North Korea and their version of Democracy.  Newborns equal workers, which equals a balance sheet to the governments obligation.  That is all.

Mansky has claimed he has even more footage, but has kept it under wraps, out of concern for Zin-Mi and her family.  At one point, Zin-Mi describes sheer panic of being in the Children’s Union, which represents her official ascent into adulthood, according to the government.  A government staffer is heard in the background saying to stop her.

The film says quite a lot about North Korea.  And it’s clear in the film that what they are doing in the DPRK should never have been allowed.  Despite the protections afforded to them by China and Russia, the entire world should have stepped in along time ago and done something about this.

At another point in the film, a government director is heard shouting a threat at the citizens for not cheering enough.  Disgusting is a word that comes to mind.

I’m glad Mansky made this film.  It shows communism for it is, when it’s completely boiled down to it’s rawest.  I hope that Zin-Mi and her family find a way out.

I highly recommend this film, it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in years, and it’s surely the best of 2016.

Cubs Sunday: Week in Review

Well, I don’t normally like to give myself credit, but I think my letter to Harry, (A Letter to Harry Caray), may have lit a fire with my favorite friends on the Northside.

It’s turned into a big weekend for the guys, along with big news.

It may be that they’re facing the Orioles pitching staff, but out of nowhere our guys have turned into the bomb squad.  They are launching balls farther and more often than the pros at your area driving range, and it’s becoming viral across the lineup and the bench.

Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, Baez, even Heyward is putting the ball deep into the field, everywhere, and anywhere.  Baltimore fans must be embarassed, because even though they are six under, their team hasn’t played this weak to power all season.

Later today, Jose Quintana makes his pitching debut with the Cubs.  You may recall he was previously a 3rd, and then 2nd arm on the White Sox rotation, but he’s been having a tough season because the organization has hit the reset button with move of Chris Sale this off-season.  With little run support, Quintana has managed a 4-8 record.

He’s going to sit behind Arrieta, Lester, and Lackey, on an already impressive rotation.  And if he gets hot, like the lineup has become, the NL and AL is going to have a miserable summer ahead.

Rizzo, who’s been batting in the .240’s and worse all summer, has brought himself back up to .258.  That may not seem big, but as you work the numbers, that means his hitting successfully one to two more times a week, on average.  This is how you build momentum when hitting.  If he can keep that up, he’s going to wind up back in .290’s, and judging from the recent drives, he’ll surpass 30 by September call-up week.

I’ve told people previously that in order to be a Cubs fan, you must have faith.  It has to be strong.  You can’t be the kind of person that loses all hope.  Baltimore is getting a taste.

Things are looking up!