August 7, 2012
"From a U.S. government perspective, our leaders are not really concerned about this issue. They appear to be downplaying or outright dismissing the threat from domestic non-Islamic extremists. … It should also give pause to those who are engaging in overly heated political rhetoric for personal gain."

Daryl Johnson, author of the 2009 law enforcement report entitled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”

Highlighting a passage from a passage my friend Teddy Tutson highlighted from the Huffington Post article, Controversial ‘09 DHS Rightwing Report Author Responds to Critics.

August 6, 2012
"‎”There is something deeply nauseating, unhomed, un-everything, about attacks on vulnerable human beings at prayer, or about to pray. We want to believe in religious spaces as safe dwellings, as sanctuaries in the most literal sense of the word—but they have also long been targets for Americans who fear change.”"

Sikh Temple Shooting: Of Martian Rovers and Terror in Holy Spaces,” by Jodi Eichler-Levine for Religion Dispatches

May 15, 2012
Selling Trayvon Martin for Target Practice | Mother Jones

For $8, you could practice shooting Trayvon Martin right where George Zimmerman did. Seriously.

There’s a new low in the highly charged Trayvon Martin case. According to a report from Florida TV news station WKMG, an unidentified entrepreneur aimed to profit by selling paper gun targets depicting the unarmed teenager slain in February. The targets, which were advertised for sale online until Friday, feature a hoodie with crosshairs over the chest—the place where George Zimmerman shot Martin at point-blank range. While there’s plain black in lieu of Martin’s face, tucked into the hoodie’s arm are a bag of Skittles and can of iced tea like the kind Martin was carrying on that fateful night.

If I shudder any more violently, I’ll spill my coffee.

Read the rest of the article and watch the original WKMG report here.

April 24, 2012
Drones for "urban warfare"

Apparently today is just a day designed to make me revise all my previous fears about “waking nightmares.” Next up: flame throwers for D.A.R.E. officers!

In November 2010, a police lieutenant from Parma, Ohio, asked Vanguard Defense Industries if the Texas-based drone manufacturer could mount a “grenade launcher and/or 12-gauge shotgun” on its ShadowHawk drone for U.S. law enforcement agencies. The answer was yes.

… In short, the business of marketing drones to law enforcement is booming. Now that Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up U.S. airspace to unmanned vehicles, the aerial surveillance technology first developed in the battle space of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is fueling a burgeoning market in North America. And even though they’re moving from war zones to American markets, the language of combat and conflict remains an important part of their sales pitch — a fact that ought to concern citizens worried about the privacy implications of domestic drones.

“As part of the push to increase uses of civilian drones,” the Wall Street Journal reported last week, nearly 50 companies are developing some 150 different systems, ranging from miniature models to those with wingspans comparable to airliners.” Law enforcement and public safety agencies are a prime target of this industry, which some predict will have $6 billion in U.S. sales by 2016.

Continue reading at Salon…

Because this sounds like SUCH a good idea! It’s not just about privacy concerns. Given the total impunity with which police forces have been acting nationwide - most demonstrably obvious in their violent and brutal handling of #Occupy protestors - giving them even more tools with which to spy on and physically harm U.S. CITIZENS seems to me a step in the wrong direction. Especially given the dehumanizing effect drone warfare has. We’ve seen it from our own military personnel abroad. To the operators of these systems, the people they’re viewing on that screen aren’t real people. They’re just little bullseyes, getting blown into oblivion.

The article ends with the idea that

"with a technology born in combat zones and marketed by defense contractors from countries that don’t have baseline privacy laws (U.S.) or have poor human rights records justified in the name of “homeland security” (Israel), the American public may want more explicit guarantees that they will be the beneficiaries, not the target, of drones over America."

But in my opinion, such a guarantee would be totally worthless. I get that the idea is to keep police officers and military personnel out of harms way, and that’s a great thing. But turning these weapons - because that’s what they are - on our own citizens (not to mention civilians) won’t benefit anyone at all. We’ve seen what our police will do to peaceful protestors. As if pepper spraying them isn’t bad enough, now they’re going to be blown off the f*ing screen.

April 1, 2012
Bill Maher Has Had It With Our Gun Culture

This is a cautionary tale about what happens when the Democrats completely lay down on an issue and let the Right get whatever they want. You get insanity.

Bill Maher can be too much, but I’m always happy to see someone arguing for better gun regulations.

March 27, 2012
Easter Riot

My latest article for The Revealer | 27 March 2012

Ashley Baxstrom: It’s a curious culture we live in when a children’s event has to be cancelled because people are acting belligerently.

It’s troubling even – or maybe especially – when it’s a religious children’s event. A religious children’s event that’s supposed to be a joyous celebration. A religious children’s event that’s supposed to be a joyous celebration about a bunny (or, you know, Jesus).

Because when I say “people acting belligerently,” I mean, “parents acting in the standard way parents act now.” That’s right – Easter has become the new domain of over-aggressive parenting, and as always in this world, it is the innocent who suffer.

The annual Old Colorado City Easter Egg Hunt in Colorado Springs has been cancelled because of parents’ misbehavior last year, the AP reports. The event, which draws hundreds of families, takes place in an open-field section of Bancroft Park. The children-only hunt is roped off, and plastic eggs filled with candy and local business coupons are scattered across the grass. But last year, due to a PA system malfunction, a few parents jumped the ropes before they were supposed to, apparently unleashing a floodtide of grown-up egg-snatching, leaving empty-handed children and befuddled rule-abiding parents in its wake. The “hunt” was over in seconds.

“You better believe I’m going to help my kid get one of those eggs. I promised my kid an Easter egg hunt, and I’d want to give him an even edge,” one man told the reporter.

Ron Alsop, author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up,” attributes this mindset to what he calls a phenomenon of the “millennial children” generation, where parents “can’t stay out of their children’s lives. They don’t give their children enough chances to learn from hard knocks, mistakes.”

But these “helicopter parents” – so-called because of their tendency to hover (get it!) – aren’t just heavily involved in their children’s lives. There is a multitude of healthy ways in which Moms and Dads can be very- or over-involved with their children: chores; monitoring Internet usage; vetting prom dates; encouraging or pushing extracurricular activities.

What’s bad about the kind of behavior on display in Old Colorado City last year is its extreme competitiveness. Egg-snatching parents weren’t offering encouragement or positive reinforcement, they were being pushy and aggressive. At least no fistfights broke out, but it’s not like we haven’t seen that at kids’ events before, particularly sports, between parents or even in some parent-on-ref action (just try Googling “dad attacks referee”).

The thing is, this isn’t just a phenomenon of parenting; it’s not like this just dropped on our folks out of the 80’s skies, along with neon, scrunchies and Tiffany. Parents are a part of families are a part of American culture and society, and America is competitive. Maybe this is a new playing field, but the game has been going on for a very long time. Look at our political system, how we’re constantly pitted against one another. Look at how we frame our national identity against other countries in a race to arms, a race to rule the global economy, a challenge to spread democracy (not, of course, that we’re the only nation to use such rhetoric. English football fans, I mean, yikes!).

Aggressive parenting is one of many symptoms of the overly-competitive system we live in, and seeing that spread to another area of culture – religion – shouldn’t be a surprise. The article actually comes off as kind of funny – look at these silly grownups going cuckoo for candy, it’s just an Easter egg hunt! – but then I had to remind myself that Easter for many is a serious, thoughtful, meaningful time of year.  And about morethan the return of Jelly Bellies. It’s a celebration about the rebirth of Christ and the rebirth believers believe is possible for those who believe in it. Besides some people maybe being upset about the commodification of their holiday, now they have to deal with competition and aggressive, even violent, behavior?

But this wasn’t a church service – it was a fully culturally-co-opted bunny-centered time for tots. So it’s kind of like, ok, chill, don’t get too offended Christians. But at the same time, yea, stealing candy is messed up, and maybe we should be treating the whole Easter thing with a little more respect.

Ah, but our argument. Religion isn’t special – by which I mean that, like parenting, it is a product of culture, immersed in our society, influencing and being influenced by it. Can we really be surprised that it’s been affected (infected?) by our competitive streak? ARE we surprised? I’m not. Religion’s not immune to competition; I think it’s obviously a longstanding participant. Religious wars, religious conversions, theological debates, to cite the obvious. And the rhetoric of religion in politics these days – competition is everywhere, folks, and it’s in religion too.”

“I don’t see any sign of [the competitive dynamic] abating,” Alsop said. “It seems everything is more and more and more competitive, fast paced, and I think parents are going to see they need to do more to help their kids get an edge.”

So it’s ok to laugh at this story, and to be upset by this story. It’s pretty ridiculous that it happened. Don’t we all just want to roll our eyes and mutter “Come ON” under our breath? We should take concerns about this competitiveness in a religious context seriously. But we might also need to be seriously concerned about the competitiveness OF religion, and more than that, of our competitive culture as a whole.

Because this is the final result folks: little children who didn’t get any candy, and now you have to tell them the Easter Bunny isn’t real.

 Ashley Baxstrom is a master’s student in Religious Studies at New York University and an assistant editor at The Revealer. Follow her on Twitter at @AshBaxNYC.

March 18, 2012
I think this says it all.

photo by C.S. Muncy at The Village Voice

I think this says it all.

photo by C.S. Muncy at The Village Voice

March 18, 2012
Investigate NYPD Violence Against Occupy Wall Street

Sign the petition if you think the police shouldn’t be able to smash an unarmed medic’s head into a reinforced window, or keep a woman whose ribs they broke in the hospital without allowing lawyers or family to visit her.

OR just if you think that VIOLENCE is the wrong answer. You want to police, police. No need to beat down on peaceful protestors.

March 18, 2012
Within an hour, #OWS went from a joyous celebration to a terrifying scene.
Hit my 7,000th tweet tonight- shame it was about NYPD brutality against peaceful Occupy Wall St. protestors. Seriously, it’s time for a change.
You can call NYPD and tell them to stop using violence!! Switchboard: 646-610-5000
(photo by the intrepid @PennyRed)

Within an hour, #OWS went from a joyous celebration to a terrifying scene.

Hit my 7,000th tweet tonight- shame it was about NYPD brutality against peaceful Occupy Wall St. protestors. Seriously, it’s time for a change.

You can call NYPD and tell them to stop using violence!! Switchboard: 646-610-5000

(photo by the intrepid @PennyRed)

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