she hungers for
the artist
but cannot endure
the artist

the would-be climber
terrified of heights
desiring the view
from the mountaintop

and so she settles for
the stable
the steady
the safe

and who can blame her

certainly not i

because the problem
with feeling it all
with truly knowing
one's self
is that there's no way
to shut it off

and in the nights
weary from the descent
and wanting only
for the eyes to close
for the mind to quiet
we must then endure
the avalanche


“But that’s what the guy was talkin’ about,” continued Dan. “Russia’s over there layin’ waste to them bastards.”

Ray had been trying to catch the eye of the redhead next door for the last few seconds. He’d caught it twice so far, and gave it another moment before he turned to his uncle’s friend. “Absolutely,” he began. “And locking down the territory in the process. With their air defense system they’ve effectively created a no-fly zone. If Russia doesn’t want you in Syria, you ain’t gettin’ in. Straight up.”

“And that’s what he was gettin’ at,” replied Dan. “How come they’re able to do so much damage when we couldn’t?

“We’re exhausted, for one thing,” Ray’s Uncle Max interjected. He flicked the spent cigarette he’d been smoking into the brush pile near where they were sitting in the yard. “We’ve got bullets flyin’ in nearly every damn country in the Middle East. Terrorists swarming around in that whole god forsaken region.”

Ray chuckled. “Funny how that works out, huh?”

“What’s that?” asked Dan, a somewhat confused expression on his face.

Ray started to answer then abruptly stopped. He’d learned from past experiences how badly things could go when introducing new concepts—particularly those that challenged ingrained ideas—with people, even when they claim to be interested.

He looked up into the sky for a moment while he chose his words. It was a gorgeous day, one they’d been due for a while. So far, autumn had been cold and wet and little else. But today the world shined, and Ray had taken the opportunity to hop onto his mountain bike and shoot all over town. This stop at his uncle’s place was both for rest and rapport. His uncle was nuts, yeah, but Ray had always had a soft spot for him. Now the three men sat in lawn chairs in the back yard, drinking in the sun’s warm light.

Art by Abby Martin

Art by Abby Martin

“Terrorism,” he finally said, turning back to Dan. “Our excuse to go wherever we want. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria…Wherever ISIS, or whatever terrorist group the corporate media’s pimping that week pops up, we’re there. Doesn’t even have to be terrorism, in fact. Look at Yemen. The people rise up, send their leaders running for the hills—quite literally—and how does the US respond? We sick our buddy Saudi Arabia on ‘em. Can’t have people running their own countries. What’s the matter with you?”

“When you say corporate media you’re talkin’ about CNN, FOX News and all them whores, right?” asked Dan.

Absentmindedly, Ray glanced over to where the redhead was sitting with her mother in the next yard over. To his satisfaction, he found the young woman looking at him. She turned away quickly, but Ray smiled nonetheless. He turned back to Dan. “Correct. Bought and paid for to spin the government’s line.”

“But you’re sayin’ that’s the old model,” said his Uncle Max.

“Yeah. A lot of folks call it the dinosaur media. I like that.”

His uncle nodded. “It fits.”

“But yeah, that model is obsolete,” Ray continued. “Back in the day people had no choice. All they knew was whatever the major networks told them. Make no mistake, the American Empire was possible because those in authority were able to craft the only narrative. But the system has crashed. It couldn’t compete in the Digital Age. Now people all over the world have access to information our predecessors didn’t. The Internet changed the game at a fundamental level. It gave us the means to investigate the government’s claims. And more often than not we’ve found them to be liars. We make that information available through news articles, radio shows, podcasts, documentaries…Even art, though not as much as I’d like. We’re working on that, though.”

“Interesting,” said Max, with an expression that told Ray his uncle was discovering things about his nephew he’d never known.

“But people are beginning to see the truth,” Ray went on. “I was telling a buddy of mine the other day, Joker really nailed it in The Dark Knight. He tells the crooks that Batman has shown Gotham their true colors. Unfortunately…” Ray smiled, shook his head. “Oh, Heath. You are missed.”

Dan nodded in agreement. “Oh yeah. He’ll always be the Joker, no matter who else plays him.”

Ray looked at him. “Anyone who says otherwise oughta be locked up in Arkham.”

The three of them shared a laugh, and Ray took a moment to eye his quarry. To his surprise, the girl was looking at him once more. But this time, she held his gaze for a couple of seconds before turning back to her mother.

“Take Obama a little while back,” Ray said, then turned back to the other men. “Him claiming there are no “boots on the ground” in Syria. The fact that he thinks he can get away with such an outright lie is because he and the rest of the psychopaths running the military-industrial complex are so deluded that they actually think tactics that worked in the Cold War are still effective in a world of global interconnectivity. The simple truth is that they failed to adapt their methods. Now they’re stuck playing catch-up”

“Yeah,” agreed Dan. “When Obama said that, it hit me the wrong way. No boots on the ground? How can he say that?”

“When you say they’re stuck playing catch up, what do you mean?” Max asked his nephew. “Catch up to what?"

Ray had grabbed his water bottle and was guzzling. He’d been riding hard all day, and all this talking had him feeling dehydrated. He finished, wiped his mouth, and stared at his uncle. “Dissention.”

He allowed the notion to settle into the men’s minds, and their silent eyes on him suggested that it had. “There’s a growing movement that’s risen out of cyberspace,” he began, leaning in closer to the other two. “Journalists, activists, hacktivists, all around truth seekers…Call it whatever you want. But the cat’s outa the bag, gentlemen. We see the whole board now. And the empire is crumbling due very much in part to an awakening populace at home. We have a voice now, and we can say to them…No.”

“So it’s gonna be Russia, then,” said Dan as he pulled a pack of smokes out of his shirt pocket. “The new number one superpower.”

“With China right by their side,” added Max.

Ray shrugged. “Probably. Looks that way at the moment. But honestly, who the hell knows? These people are maniacs. That’s not really what concerns me, anyway.”

“What then?” asked Max while watching his friend light a cigarette.

“It goes back to the Net,” said Ray. “The American Empire is failing because it couldn’t adapt to the new reality. Meanwhile, you know who’s been adapting just fine all this while?”

“Who?” asked Dan, a look of genuine intrigue on his face.

Ray looked at Max. “You just said it, uncle. China.”

Max returned his nephew’s gaze. “No foolin’…”

Ray nodded. “No foolin’. They’ve got their people caged. It’s straight totalitarianism. Body and mind. And that’s what concerns me. I know a guy who’s written on it before. China has an actual cyber police force. There are insane restrictions on speech, political speech in particular. There’s even this super creepy credit system that tracks how loyal you are to the government. China saw early on what it would take to keep their people in check in the Digital Age, and they’re doing it. Well.”

“Oh, man…,” Max said suddenly, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. There was something distant in his eyes. It was a look Max had seldom seen in his uncle.

“You see it,” Ray said with a grin.

Max seemed to be looking out at nowhere, nothing. He pulled the smoke from his lips. “I mean…Russia’s over there flexin’ its muscles while we cower back,” he said, finally turning to Ray. “They’re makin’ partnerships all over. They got other countries helpin’ in Syria now.

“Even some of our own allies,” Ray confirmed.

“And with China…well, like I said. Right by their side in this new…what do I call it? Eurasian Bloc?”

Ray nodded. “That’s how that writer put it.”

“So how long’s it gonna be before Russia starts learnin’ from its Asian comrades?” Max continued. “How long before they start puttin’ crazy restrictions on what their people can and can’t say on the Net? I mean…that’s how it works, right? It’s not like Russia would convince China to ease back on that front.”

Art by Anthony Freda

Art by Anthony Freda

“Of course not,” Ray scoffed. “With the State the march is always forward.”

“Exactly,” said Max, leaning forward, elbows on knees. “So what we’re lookin’ at is…pretty soon…we could have a monster military power on the other side of the world with the ability to absolutely keep its citizens in check. In every way.”

Ray had turned to check on the redhead, only to find that she and her mother had vanished. He turned back to his uncle. “That’s about the size of it. And that doesn’t even get into the economic side of things. What’s happening with BRICS is every bit as telling of the coming power shift.”

“BRICS?” asked Dan, exhaling a puff of smoke.

“Oh, man,” said Ray, looking at him. “I really don’t have the time to go into that one. I’ll swing by tomorrow if you’re truly interested.”

“I am,” Dan returned. “But I’m hearin’ that China is hurtin’ bad right now economically. What about that?”

“It’s true,” Ray acknowledged. “They’re having some major issues with their currency. So bad that they’re going to need to let the yuan depreciate considerably, in fact. But those issues are due more to miscalculation and false expectations than anything else. It’s concerning, no doubt. Particularly because of how interwoven global markets have become. Ripple effect and all that. But these things happen. Similar situation happened in China back in August. So yeah, they’ve got problems, man. But a correction will come. Then again, maybe it won’t. Maybe this is the big one.”

“The big one?” asked Dan.

Ray glanced at him, smiled. “That one’s gonna have wait ‘til tomorrow, also. Too much to tell.”

“So back to this power shift…,” said Max.

Ray had turned and was looking into the empty yard where the young woman had been. He faced his uncle once more, brought his mind back to the discussion. “What I was gonna say was…On a strictly analytical level all this is actually quite interesting. A case study, if you will. The West flourished through propaganda, during a time when brute force was all that was required to keep those who would step out of line in check. The dissenters, as it were. But now that model is disintegrating, along with the iron grip of the State that depended upon it.”

Ray watched his uncle, who was only just then getting around to lighting that cigarette. Ray couldn’t count the number of times he’d seen the man quit smoking in the past, only to pick the habit back up some time later. He considered commenting on the observation, but immediately thought better of it.

Art by Banksy

Art by Banksy

“On one side there’s the West,” he continued, “whose structure is shattering because it couldn’t adapt. And on the other side there’s Eurasia, whose structure is strengthening because it could and did adapt. China absorbed the Digital Age’s mandates into its system of control.” He shook his head. “It’s the evolution of the State, right before our eyes.”

Ray then noticed his Uncle Max looking at something behind him. He turned around to find the redhead standing at the fence.

“Hey, babe,” Max said, exhaling smoke. “Whatcha need?”

“Hey, Max,” the girl said, her voice smooth and velvety to Ray’s ears. “My mom was wondering if you were gonna be around later. She was hoping you could help her move some furniture upstairs.”

She looked only at his uncle, though Ray could see that it was all she could do not to look at him. Ray kept his eyes on her, waiting for the inevitable. 

“Sure thing,” Max replied. “Tell her I’ll be over in a bit.”

“Okay, thanks,” the girl said, then turned to leave. But before she did—and precisely as Ray had expected—she shot him a playful look.

Ray watched her walk away for a few moments, then tuned back to the men. “Cute,” he said, grinning. “Very cute.”

Max laughed. “Indeed. If I was about a thousand years younger—“

“—You still wouldn’t have a prayer,” said Dan.

The three of them laughed, after which Ray drained what was left of his water. “I need to shag ass, uncle,” he said, rising to his feet. “Things to do. This was just supposed to rest stop, ya know.”

“I apologize for nothing,” Max responded.

“Good man,” said Ray, grabbing his backpack off the grass. “Dan, always a pleasure.”

“Alright, bud. See ya later.”

“I’m gonna grab some agua before I roll,” said Ray as he was heading for the back door of the house.

“Whatever you need, brother,” said Max.

Ray reached for the doorknob thinking that yes, he would be back at his uncle’s place tomorrow. He had more to say, and a girl to meet. 

Max waited until the back door closed, then he looked at Dan. “You know,” he said, then took a drag and let out a spray of smoke. “When that boy was a baby my sister dropped him on his head. In the kitchen. Smacked it on the tile.”

Dan stared at him in disbelief. “For real?”

Max stared back, went deadpan. “Nope.”

Dan was silent a moment, then both men broke out into laughter. When silence had reclaimed the scene, Dan turned to his old friend. “I wanted to ask him, though. Where’s it at? Why can’t I see it? Him talkin’ about boots on the ground got me thinkin’ of Vietnam. I mean, there were millions in the streets protesting that war. Where’s it at today? Where’s the dissent?”

Max looked at him, something resembling pride in his eyes. He grinned, shot a thumb back toward the house. “It just hopped on a mountain bike and hauled ass home.”



i see a man
at a bar
around closing time

he's alone
but so is she

and with
a shimmering sadness

their eyes
have been whispering
but he knows
he can't go to her

the storm is mighty
and he's barely
holding on
to those near him

there's simply
no room
for another

he can't leave
without touching her


so he gives her
all he can

a smile

it disarms her
but he knows
she'll feel it later

in the sheets


in the moments
before sleep
may she hear him

fear not
my love

we are
of the living

The Union

Luke moved his eyes up and down the west bank, wondering as he always had what the river would look like without all the machinery.

“He don’t give a fuck,” Matt was saying. “Why would he give a fuck? Ain’t his girl. Ain’t his business.”

“It’s a little cold, no?” offered Luke while watching the steam rise up from the refinery stacks.

“Bah. You’ve gotten soft.”

Luke turned to him. “Fuck you, ya Cajun prick. I’ll slit your goddamn throat.”

“My ass.”

Luke squinted at his old friend, then faced forward and settled into his seat. “Yeah. Probably not.”

They crossed the rest of the bridge in silence, and once they were on the eastern side of the river Luke’s eyes fell to the marsh. It was evening and he’d always loved how the sunlight hit the water at that time. He stared out from the passenger side, listening as Matt lit a cigarette and cracked his window. Months ago, on his last visit back home, Matt had quit smoking. Again. Luke thought about saying something then instantly thought better of it.

“So I’m out of the union.”

Luke turned. “What? Why?”

Matt blew smoke, shook his head. “That same shit, man.”

“Those tests and shit?”


“They’re seriously gonna boot you for that? After all these years?”

“Done did it,” answered Matt. “Pulled me off a job, pulled me outta school. I will not be a union-certified electrician.”

Luke’s eyes trailed off as he thought it over. “Bastards,” he said quietly.

“Know what, man?” said Matt. “I’m relieved. I am glad to be done of it.”

Luke looked at his friend. “Yeah?”

Matt nodded. “Yeah.” He took a drag, exhaled, glanced over at Luke. “You don’t know, man. You left.” He turned his attention back to the road, rested the hand holding the cigarette on the wheel. “I mean I know you know your shit and everything but you don’t know about that. Believe it. That shit’s got to be seen.

Luke studied Matt closely, nodding. “I believe it. Tell me.”

Matt took a long pull from the cigarette, held it for a moment, then let out a thick spray of smoke. He looked out at the shimmering marsh, shook his head. “They want your mind, brother. And that’s not an exaggeration. They demand absolute obedience. No less.”

“Like with voting.”

“Man, they will tear you down if they find out you didn’t vote Democrat,” Matt began. “I’ve seen it happen. It’s not enough they control every aspect of our jobs—and by extension, in my view, our lives. No. They want you to fall in line, son. The party line. It’s about repaying debts. We owe it all to the Democrats, we’re told.”

“I’ve read.”

“Never fails, come election time,” Matt continued, “some pasty fuck from some office somewhere comes down and gets in our face and reminds us how the union provides our jobs, buys us our homes, pays for our kids to go to school, and everything else. All loyalty to the union. And if you’re loyal to the union then you’re loyal to the Democrats. That’s doctrine. You need to do the right thing, they tell us, and check that box.”

Luke grunted. “Sounds about right.”

A couple of kids in a tricked out Honda zoomed past blaring rap music. Luke watched the irritation flash across Matt’s face with mild amusement. But it was only a flash, and a moment later it was usurped by the preceding revulsion.

“And then there’s the lie of it all,” he went on. “This idea that the union fights for workers’ rights is a fucking joke. Job security, benefits, shorter hours. Shorter hours?! Luke, I worked seven-twelves for six weeks without a single day off. Where’s my time to relax? Where’s my time to watch a movie with my son? Where’s my time to live? Tell me that.”

It was then that Luke saw something in his friend that he’d wanted desperately to see for years. Matt was more than angry. What he was feeling went deeper than revulsion. It was outrage, plain and simple. Something Luke felt often, and all too well.

“That shit just don’t factor with these people,” Matt said softly. “We’re units, man. That’s it. Just a calculation. Some prick crunched the numbers, filed some paper with some other prick, and we were activated. Happens a million times a day. Think about that. We’re just one crew on one job in one local.”

Matt reached over, dug a finger into Luke’s chest, and stared at him wide-eyed. “And you best be thankful for that job, boy. And play nice, hear?

Matt settled back into his seat and took a drag. Luke watched him, not sure exactly what to say or even if he should speak at all. There was something very different about his friend. He’d changed. Not outwardly, and not to anyone who hadn’t been reading comics with him since third grade. But Luke could see it as clearly as he could now see his hometown’s water tower rising above the treeline. He saw it, and he waited.

“We did a job with these rats,” Matt said, then flicked his cigarette out the window and closed the crack. To Luke, the sudden quiet in the car somehow intensified the scene. “Same site. They got a contract, we got a contract. That kind of thing. Happens occasionally.” Matt snorted, shook his head. “All these clowns talkin’ bout how much better the union makes it for us. Man, you should’ve seen the rats’ break area. Us, it’s fifty muthafuckers squeezed into a metal box. Sardines, with a couple of coffee pots and a Coke machine. The rats? Luke, I shit you not, they had a goddamn circus tent. About half as many crew as we had, stretched out, breeze comin’ in through the flaps…Comfortable. Relaxed. With tables of microwaves, mini fridges, coffee pots. Half a dozen Coke machines, just as many snack machines—Oh, and a big fancy sonuvabitch that offered sandwiches, burgers, salad, fresh fruit, pizza. No shit. You slide in your cash, you press a button, and you got pizza. It was good, too.”

“You had some?”

Fuck yeah, I had some. Had a burger, too. Luke, I took my lunches with the rats, man. That’s what I’m sayin’. Union can talk all it wants but when you’re there, on the ground, you see the difference.”

Luke grinned, nodded. “Privatize everything.”

“Then there’s the bumper stickers.”

Luke’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, man,” said Matt, chuckling. “The cars of these psychos are loaded down with stickers. I’m talkin’ about the real fanatics, now. And there’s a ton of ‘em. Most of ‘em, actually. Anyway, these stickers, man…They’re spoutin’ some hardcore stuff. Like centralized control of the workforce and organized labor and all that.”

Luke paused. “Organized labor?”

“Yeah. That’s the most popular one. Just the electricians’ union symbol with ‘organized labor’ in big ass letters.”

Luke stared at him, dumbstruck. “That’s straight Communism.”

Matt shot an eye at him. “That’s the union, son.”

Luke watched his friend a while longer then leaned back in his seat and stared out through the windshield. The treeline was approaching. The treeline and the hometown and the house he grew up in and everything else he’d left behind over a decade ago.

“Somethin’ I haven’t told you, man,” Matt said suddenly. “Now’s as good a time as any.”

Luke gazed through the glass, waiting for whatever the hell would come next.

“All that stuff you send me? Those articles and shit?”

Luke turned.

“I read it,” Matt said. “All of it. Every word.”

Luke studied his friend, nodding. In an instant all the changes he was seeing began to make a lot more sense. “I knew you would. Conclusions?”

Conclusions?” Matt laughed, then brought both hands up to firmly grip the wheel. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as all traces of humor evaporated from him. “Yeah, I got one.”

The car rolled into the shade of the cypress and live oaks. Luke hardly noticed.

“I read that stuff,” Matt continued, “and I take a look at what’s goin’ on out here. And I don’t just mean here. I mean the whole enchilada, dig?”

“Yeah, man.”

Matt took another breath, exhaled deeply as he tightened his grip on the wheel. “I take a look at this thing. And I just keep thinkin’…” He glanced out through the window, shook his head. “This ain’t right. It’s wrong, in fact. This is all wrong.”

If he’d been able to peel his eyes off his oldest friend in the world, Luke would’ve seen that Randall’s Pharmacy at the end of Crest Street had gone out of business. It’d been around since Luke was a boy. “Then you, my friend, are an enemy of the State.” He smiled, extended his hand. “Welcome.”



the flags
line the road like
guiding lights
and i've come to see

not sure what it is
but i was
and i tend not to question
such things

it ain't happenin'
until i see
the man marching along
waving a giant american

i wanna walk
alongside the man
and ask him about freedom

freedom to think
to speak
to associate

to live as one desires
and to believe
as one chooses

the freedom to succeed
and grow strong
and to fail
and grow wise

the freedom to seek union
with others
and build
and the freedom
to break that union and
begin anew

i wanna walk
alongside the man
and ask him all this
and then i wanna slip out
and wait

there's another man
twenty yards back and
i wanna ask him the same

he's marching too
and has a symbol
of his own

you can't miss him

amidst the orgy
of flags
his is the confederate

China Launches Cyber Police, Governments Everywhere Jealous

On June 1 China’s Ministry of Public Security announced the formation of an Internet police force that would actively patrol social media. For Chinese citizens it was official confirmation of what they already knew—the government is monitoring their speech. Dubbed “Internet Police Inspection and Law Enforcement,” the program consists of a network of social media accounts tasked with, among other things, preventing the spread of “improper” words and detecting “illegal and harmful information.”

With regard to the Web, this is the logical next step in the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent. Since 2009, when the government banned the use of foreign-based platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Chinese social media sites like Weibo and WeChat have exploded in popularity. Authorities have long had accounts on these sites with which fine, upstanding citizens could report on inappropriate content. Then, last year, in a move that signaled a deepening paranoia, the Chinese government enacted instant messaging regulations that required users to register their real names and seek permission to publish political news. Now, with the launch of an official Internet police force, it seems the state has decided to forego all pretense and start hunting.

For those eager to tout China as a mortal enemy of the United States—one on par with the likes of Russia and Iran—this type of news is welcome. It gives them something to point at, something to denounce. Because, clearly, only a tyrannical government would go to such lengths to stifle the free speech of its citizens. Indeed, the very fact that such measures are deemed necessary by the establishment is evidence of the Chinese people’s objection to their ruling class. Certainly, something as Orwellian as an “Internet Police Inspection and Law Enforcement” program could never exist in the United States. After all, the people of America and those of its Western allies enjoy the right to speak as the wish, on any subject they wish. Because, you know, democracy and freedom and junk.

Least, that’s what it says in the brochure.

Just don’t look at France, where in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting authorities kicked off a hardcore crackdown on so-called “hate speech.” More than fifty were arrested in the first wave, one of whom being the controversial comedian Dieudonne, who has a reputation for pushing the boundaries of what passes for acceptable ideas on race and religion. Dieudonne, booked for being an “apologist for terrorism,” had made a statement on Facebook in which he seemingly showed support for one of the gunmen involved with a grocery store standoff that went down two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Apparently, the comedian is free to express his opinion only so long as that opinion falls in line with the orchestrated consensus. To many, the hypocrisy of it all was obvious.

Turn away from Canada as well. Because if you’re operating under the delusion that our neighbor to the north is a bastion of free speech, then you really won’t want to hear about how the Harper government is threatening to use hate crime legislation to target those who would participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement against Israel. Never mind that the act of boycotting is by definition an expression of disapproval—hence, a form of speech. The Canadian authorities don’t like it and so they’re throwing a tantrum. Something else they don’t like is for their scientists to talk about climate change. Last year it was revealed that the government actually forbids its meteorologists to speak publically on the issue. One could be forgiven for wondering what the big deal is. I mean, since the science has long been “settled” and all…

And whatever you do, don’t take a good hard look at what’s happening here in America. That could be lethal. In any case, you have better things to do than reading about how the FCC has granted itself vast regulatory powers over the Internet—the same Internet chairman Tom Wheeler referred to as the “core of free expression”—with Net Neutrality. You probably wouldn’t care to discover that the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, already suspected of being little more than a power grab by corporations, has recently been revealed to be far less about trade and far more about control of the Web. But in the odd event that you do glance about and catch sight of something that sticks in your craw, be mindful of what you say about it. This politically correct culture of ours seldom jives with the notion of free speech. But really, why trouble yourself with all that ugliness? Caitlyn Jenner is talking about how she chose her name.

The truth is, the Chinese are doing with their new Internet police force exactly what all governments would like to do. All of them fear dissension, and all of them—given the chance—would snuff out those promoting it. This is becoming increasingly difficult, of course, and the reason is plain to see. The Internet has fundamentally altered the game, and governments have been left scrambling to stay on top of the rising political awareness taking shape across the planet. Some will undoubtedly use the news of China’s cyber cops to foster the idea of American superiority. But then, China doesn’t purport itself to be the world’s great shining light for freedom and justice. So at the end of the day, when everything is tallied…who’s the real jerk?

on a bench downtown

the man was an ass
as far as i could tell
he knew his stuff

he hung in there
through the imagists
through the beats
and even
had a few ugly things
to say about
the new formalists
which was fine by me

but he was an ass

he spoke down to us
his crystal nowhere
and was quick
to mistake dissension
for challenge

his profile told me
he managed
some restaurant
i've never heard of
the pacific northwest

that means nothing
of course
it's the kind of thing
one checks on
in these situations

in truth
i was just killing time
my friend texted me
the name of the bar
to meet at

the subject of pain
arose while
i skimmed through
an article about the
ceasefire negotiations
in ukraine

"bukowski said pain is
i wrote absentmindedly

i was really
quite tired of him

"bukowski was absurd"
he spat at me

i shook my head

the talks
were going nowhere

"he could be"


the bar
was called blakely's


for us struggle lives
flicker rate and lamplight
screens and paperbacks
our spot on the couch
in a room
with drawn curtains

it's imperial troops
hunting the rebel base
in a galactic revolt
as imagined by some guy
at a keyboard

it's a great evil amassing
across a noble realm
of swords and spells
and axes and elves
in an epic trilogy
soberly crafted
over whiskied years

or whatever

as in
whatever is wheeled out
for consumption

such as
a romanticized tale
of a great war for sovereignty
of a stout people affronted
and a vile king defied
and so on

a story
of intolerable acts
and a midnight ride
and something about
hot beverages being dumped
into the sea

or perhaps
it's that warlord
a few continents away
the one
from that news clip
who rules
his wretched jungle through
menace and machete
seven hundred butchered
and a village turned to ash

or was that the fellow
in the desert...

struggle is
action and intrigue
it's absorption and escape
it's back then or
it's over there
it's anything
but the everything
and anywhere
but in your room

with your couch

and your drawn curtains

struggle for you and i is
whatever keeps us
in our spot
whatever keeps us
from standing up
and moving to the window
and taking a peek

short of a window
busting through
the fucking wall

the chasm


but your smile

but how you refuse to give up
on a friend

but the way you still make gumbo
like your grandmother
taught you
the fact that you
brew the best ipas in the universe

but how you always glance back
before walking out the door

how you vote
what you worship
who you choose to bed
what color you were born into

this is all they'd have you see
as if
these define us
as if
we're definable at all

the playbook
is tattered and bloodstained and
even more ancient
than the players themselves
what are they to do
when information
flies faster than predator drones
when the life of
state lies
can be timed in keystrokes

they fall back
to the playbook
because to adapt is to evolve and
their strain lacks the

to the boot and baton and
to enforcers in the streets
they fall back

to the corporate whores
selling us our place and
to the corporate pushers
tasked with keeping us there
they fall back

they fall back
to the old
in desperation
in a hail mary of a shot
at keeping you and i from seeing
the truth

that it's they
not we
who fall back

they want fingers pointing
they want shoulders cold
they want eyes as distrusting as
cheating husbands
claims investigators

how you vote
what you worship
who you choose to bed
what color you were born into

this is all they'd have you see
these make possible
the chasm

but your smile

but your first heartache

but how closely
the bullies and bloody noses of
your childhood
resemble those of mine

and his

and hers

but bridges


Mentally Disturbed Inmate Slowly Expires Over Five Days in 'the Bubble'

On February 11 a Texas jury awarded $2.4 million to the family of Robert Montano, an inmate of the Orange County Correctional Facility who in 2011 died while in custody. Montano, who’d been arrested for public intoxication, passed away after spending five days in an isolation unit of the jail known as “the Bubble.”

Less than a week after the jury’s ruling an Assistant District Attorney for Orange County filed a motion requesting that a federal judge void the monetary award. ADA Doug Manning claimed the evidence presented by the family’s attorneys was insufficient to support the jury’s decision and that, in point of fact, the evidence itself is “an issue of law to be determined by the judge.”

Robert Montano

Robert Montano

Robert, 41 at the time of his death, had a history of mental illness. The family and its attorneys claim the father of four, who’d spent time as a patient at a psychiatric institution in nearby Beaumont, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. And as it would become tragically apparent through various investigations related to the case, much of the circumstances surrounding Montano’s arrest, incarceration, and subsequent death, hinged upon his mental state.


In October of 2011 the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to the Montano residence when a neighbor, suspecting Robert to be under the influence of bath salts, placed a call to authorities. According to Montano family attorney Ryan MacLeod, the responding sheriff’s deputy made contact with his suspect—an oddly behaving Robert who was ranting about someone trying to kill him—in the man’s own front yard. The deputy, linking the behavior to the alleged use of bath salts, arrested Montano on misdemeanor public intoxication.

For those unfamiliar, the term “bath salts” is parlance for any of a number of synthetic drugs that, while resembling the crystals or powders of actual bath salt products, are prone to causing hallucinatory effects in users.

Once at the jail, Robert was confined to “the Bubble” for observation. The licensed vocational nurse on duty when Montano was booked noted in Robert’s file that the inmate had “been taking bath salts prior to arrest.” But as reported by the Beaumont Enterprise, that same nurse testified in federal court that she “should have used different wording in the entry” because, in truth, she’d simply “heard from someone—she was unable to recall whom—that Montano might have used bath salts.”

It’s important to note that at the point Montano was booked into the Orange County jail, the charge of public intoxication was based solely on presumption. The neighbor initially phoned police because he presumed Montano was under the influence of bath salts, the deputy made the arrest because he presumed Robert’s erratic behavior was associated to the reported drug use, and the LVN in charge of Robert’s file in the infirmary presumed the inmate was indeed intoxicated because she’d “heard” someone mention the man “might have used bath salts.”

And as it turned out, post-mortem toxicology reports presented in court showed no traces of the synthetic drugs in Montano’s system.

 “It’s a statement that spread like wildfire,” said attorney MacLeod in reference to the drug use. “There was no basis for it at all.” And as another Montano family attorney, David Bernsen, pointed out, the paranoid behavior exhibited by Robert at the time of his arrest, while often rightfully attributed to intoxication, is also a hallmark indicator of someone in the throes of a psychotic episode.

But whatever the events—be they misinterpreted or otherwise—that led to his incarceration, the fact remains that five days after entering the Orange County Correctional Facility, Robert Montano was dead. For anyone refusing to accept this outcome as simply par for the course, the obvious next move would be to determine just what happened during those five days. And that’s precisely what the Montano family did.


“Through discovery, through questioning of the witnesses, what we’ve found is that there’s a lack of training, there’s a lack of supervision, and there’s absolutely inadequate staffing in the medical infirmary according to Texas law,” explained Ryan MacLeod in a KBTV news report airing last August.

The aforementioned shortcomings are in reference to the infirmary’s failure to meet Texas Board of Nursing guidelines. According to Section 301.353 of the Nursing Practice Act: “The practice of vocational nursing must be performed under the supervision of a registered nurse, physician, physician assistant, podiatrist, or dentist.” And while the OCCF keeps five LVNs on staff, it keeps no one on hand with the type of advanced medical license required by Texas law for those LVNs to be legally allowed to practice.

In addition to the civil suit, which concluded with the $2.4 million award for the family that the county is now contesting, the blatant violations of standard nursing practices by the correctional facility prompted the Montanos’ attorneys to file a separate lawsuit—this one aimed at shutting down the jail entirely. If successful, the inmate population of Orange County would have to be transferred to neighboring facilities until further notice. The results of that lawsuit are pending.

But the fact is, the hard truth behind Robert Montano’s demise goes far beyond employment policies. The hard truth, for those with the stomach to endure it, is rooted in the anguished hours a mentally disturbed man spent in an isolation chamber over several days. A chamber tersely addressed by attorney MacLeod in the interview with KBTV: “They all call it ‘the Bubble’”.


“It literally is just a glass cell in which they put you in there, there’s no shower, there’s no toilet. And they put Mr. Montano in there for five days,” explained MacLeod in the news report. “And at some point,” he continues, “they decided to cover it with paper.”

Yeah, you read that right.

Exterior of "the Bubble" while covered

Exterior of "the Bubble" while covered

It seems that in the course of his 105 hours of isolation, Robert “went through extended periods of incoherence and violent outbursts during which he harmed himself.” In response, the staff at the Orange County jail apparently thought it appropriate to cover the windows with paper and wood panels. The same LVN who made notations in Robert’s file testified in court that sometimes this is done out of respect for inmates who strip naked while under observation. MacLeod, however, has another theory.

“He was annoying them,” he told the Enterprise in a July 2014 article.

Inside "the Bubble"

Inside "the Bubble"

And with Robert having no access to a toilet, in addition to being annoying it probably was none too pleasant for the staff to have to look in at all the human waste smeared about the cell.

As for food and water during his internment, Montano refused them. MacLeod told KBTV cameras what his team discovered regarding Robert’s mindset on this issue.

“At first what they were doing was, they were putting water in the food tray. The problem is, due to his psychotic episode, he believed they were poisoning the water. And they kept saying that. Which is a tell-tale sign of paranoid schizophrenia.”

If it seems obvious that a man who is refusing food and water while experiencing “periods of incoherence and violent outbursts during which he harmed himself” is a threat to his own well-being, it should. If it seems equally obvious that the thing to do would be to maintain hyper-vigilance over such an individual (especially when it’s in your job description), you’re right again. Sadly, this was not the way it played out for Robert Montano.

Throughout his isolation in “the Bubble” staff would periodically peek in on Robert (presumably by peeling back the paper they’d taped over the windows), but according to the lawsuit not once in those five days did an employee of the jail enter the chamber and examine Montano’s condition.

Additionally, neither of the two contract physicians who, according to Chief Deputy Clint Hodgkinson, visit the jail “several times a week,” were requested to check into Robert’s health, either.

The tragic end result of such overwhelming attentiveness on the part of the county came on October 12, 2011, when after several hours of silence Montano was found unresponsive in his cell.

Robert’s official cause of death, per the county’s forensic pathologist, was renal failure due to bath salt toxicity. This, despite the fact that toxicology reports indicated no sign of the drugs in Robert’s system.

“He never had food and water. That we know from reading their own notes,” MacLeod told a reporter from The Examiner in an October 2013 article. Relaying how the Montano legal team’s own medical expert found that Robert passed away due to a “breakdown of his kidneys,” MacLeod further explained that reports indicated the man was going through “ketoacidosis, a metabolic state common among people who undergo fasting, often times accompanied by dehydration.”

No food or water for five days. Ketoacidosis. Dehydration. The truth of what happened in “the Bubble” grows clearer.

This is, in fact, what MacLeod and his associates argued in court on behalf of the Montano family. That Robert died, not as a result from overdosing on some vaguely-defined street drug as purported by the county, but due to gross negligence by OCCF staff over a series of several days.


When considered on the whole, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the Montano family’s case. The implications of this are nothing less than frightening when one contemplates what it would’ve meant for Robert in his final days. Because if true, it means a wrongly imprisoned mentally disturbed man was locked in a papered-over cell and effectively ignored for five days while he withered away to madness and dehydration.

And “withered” is the correct term. As in to dry up. As in to shrivel.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that the Montanos have it right rests in the fact that a group of unbiased strangers, after hearing both sides of the story, recently agreed with them. Remember, whether the county likes it or not, a jury has already ruled in favor of the Montanos to the tune of $2.4 million.

To be fair, Orange County isn’t the only party involved in this case who feels no particular obligation to the truth.

Texas Ranger Bobby Smith, who was called in to “investigate” an inmate death, concurred with the county medical examiner’s bogus conclusion that bath salts—while conspicuously absent from Montano’s body—were nonetheless the ultimate cause of his demise. Smith subsequently cleared the jail of any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, a county attorney is gunning for the Montano family’s settlement. Retaliation? Spite? Perhaps. Or maybe they’re just cheap. It certainly stands to reason that had the jail employed the type of qualified medical personnel prescribed by Texas law in the first place—the type who would know better than to let a malnourished raving man go unchecked for a business week—Robert Montano might be alive today.

NGO Pushes for Centralized Power, Control Over Physician Licensure

On January 9, 2014, a bipartisan group of sixteen senators sent a letter to the Federation of State Medical Boards commending it for “advancing solutions toward multistate practice through more efficient sharing of medical licensure information.”

The letter was in response to the FSMB’s continuing efforts to overcome issues facing the concept of telemedicine. As the name implies, telemedicine is the practice of providing medical care at a distance. This encompasses everything from a simple phone consultation to something as complex as remote surgery via robotics, often referred to as telesurgery.

Specifically, the senators were addressing a piece of model legislation being drafted by the FSMB that would come to be known as the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. Purportedly, the compact is designed to streamline the process of licensing physicians who seek to practice in multiple states. As it stands, this can be tricky. Each state has its own certifications a physician must hold to be legally allowed to practice there. So in theory, a doctor providing telemedical care across state lines—say, a routine checkup via Skype—could potentially be violating state law if the requisite licenses weren’t in order.

So here we have a problem, specific to our modern age, being taken on through a concerted, common sense measure. Clearly, this compact is nothing more than the honest attempt at facilitation it appears to be, right? Well, as it turns out, perhaps not.


On January 26 of this year the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons sent a letter to the United States Senate in direct response to the one sent by senators to the Federation of State Medical Boards a year earlier. By this time, the final draft of the FSMB’s Interstate Medical Licensure Compact had been published and publically endorsed by the American Medical Association.

The AAPS’s letter asserts that, far from being a tool through which doctors can more effectively serve their patients, the FSMB’s licensing compact is in fact “little more than a pretext for transferring state sovereignty to out-of-state private, wealthy organizations that are neither transparent nor accountable to the voters.” In short, it’s a power grab.

At this point you may be asking yourself a basic question: What exactly is the Federation of State Medical Boards? The answer is more interesting than you might think.

The FSMB is a private, non-profit organization representing each of the fifty states’ medical boards, as well as those of the American territories. As stated on the group’s own website, the FSMB is “an innovative catalyst for effective policy and standards” and strives toward “promoting excellence in medical practice, licensure, and regulation as the national resource and voice on behalf of state medical boards in their protection of the public.”

Some find it highly interesting that medical policy for the individual states is influenced by a private organization that, as the folks at the AAPS claim, is “neither transparent nor accountable” to the public. That’s eyebrow-raising stuff. But as interesting as the “what” of the FSMB is, it’s nowhere near as interesting as the “who.”

And the “who” is doctors, of course. Doctors of all stripes. Lawyers, too, but that goes without saying. In fact, the FSMB leadership roster is uncannily similar to that which you’d find at just about any other of the innumerable healthcare non-profits scattered throughout the country. And this, according to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, is a significant part of the problem. In their letter to the Senate, they point to the “incestuous relationship” the FSMB has with the “self-credentialed ‘patient safety’ or ‘medical quality’ industry.”

What the AAPS is getting at may be best understood via the ordeal involving CareFusion.


On January 9, 2014—yeah, the same day the senators sent that glowing letter to the FSMB—the Department of Justice announced that CareFusion Corporation had agreed to shell out $40 million to the United States government. The payment was in response to allegations that the company had bribed, to the tune of $11.6 million, an influential member of the National Quality Forum into promoting a CareFusion product to health care providers.

The NQF is another one of these non-profit, non-governmental organizations. That group’s current CEO, Dr. Christine Cassel—who, as it happens, is the former head of the American Board of Internal Medicine and sits on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology—came under scrutiny herself last year when it was revealed that she’d been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by two medical companies that had a stake in National Quality Forum policy.

Naturally, Cassel swore up and down that no conflict of interest existed at the NQF. This was backed up by Brent James, MD, former member of NQF’s Strategic Framework Board. Dr. James asserted that there were “never any allegations of inappropriate financial inducement” regarding which quality measures were actually endorsed by the organization. James, by the way, in addition to serving as Chief Quality Officer for Intermountain Healthcare (an NGO), is also a member of the Institute of Medicine (an NGO).

It isn’t difficult to see the kind of “incestuous relationship” the AAPS is talking about. These various private organizations, influencing policies and practices in the various medical fields while maintaining deep connections to healthcare companies, seem to be headed by a shared network of industry bigwigs. As Dr. Michael Katz of Strong Memorial Hospital in New York put it on his personal blog: “each of these organizations has representatives and delegations to the other. I’ve attended many meetings where an individual says something to the effect of ‘Well, wearing my one hat, I think this, but wearing my other hat, we should totally do the opposite thing.’”

Which brings us back to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. Because if the AAPS is right and the compact is indeed an attempt to override state sovereignty and centralize power within a single, private, non-governmental organization, then how exactly would it work? In this instance, the control mechanism of choice would be the Maintenance of Certification program.


MOC is the process by which physicians stay up-to-date on their certification requirements. These requirements are set by specialty boards, each approved of by the American Board of Medical Specialties—an NGO, in case you were wondering—and professed to increase a physician’s knowledge of a particular field. The people of the AAPS, however, fundamentally disagree with this assertion. “While irrelevant to good patient care,” states the AAPS in their letter, “Maintenance of Certification (MOC) activities promoted by ABMS and its member boards…are extremely lucrative to the executives who administer them. Practicing physicians uniformly find MOC to be of minimal or no value. There is near unanimity that MOC’s only effect is to drain physicians’ time and money.”

And the AAPS isn’t alone in this opinion. In the fall of 2013 the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons published an article titled “Maintenance of Certification (MOC): the Elite’s Agenda for Medicine.” The author, Dr. Kenneth Christman, used public sources to examine the practice of MOC as conducted by the specialty boards of the ABMS. Apart from identifying multilayered connections between MOC policy and organizations such as FSMB and NQF, Christman discovered that in 2011 alone ABMS boards took in $320 million in certification-attributed revenue.

“The elite medical establishment correctly foresaw,” writes Christman, “that there was a huge treasure in the medical certification business.” And while the MOC program is technically voluntary, things such as insurance policies and hospital privileges often require doctors to participate in order to gain employment. You don’t pay, you don’t play, as it were.

But the truth is, the FSMB isn’t breaking any new ground with their power grab. One has only to take a casual look around to see the pattern. Look at Common Core, and how the federal government is trying to control education through uniform testing standards. Look at Net Neutrality, and how the FCC is trying to open the door to federal regulation of the internet. It’s hardly surprising. The trend for government is always toward greater hegemony.

So far the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact has been introduced in twelve state legislatures, but as the FSMB declares on its website: “Support is growing among legislators and health policymakers…” The organization cites the letter from the bipartisan group of senators as evidence of the strengthening endorsement, and unfortunately for those of us who find labyrinthine bureaucracy and centralized power to be a detriment to society, it’s hard to argue that logic.

This is Government: Eleven Dead Puppies and a Shrug

In late December of 2014 Sarah Landsittel of Orange, Texas arrived at the city’s animal shelter to collect her family pet, an Akita named Roxy, and her eleven pups after being alerted that Animal Control had picked up the dogs hours before. Unfortunately for Sarah, and despite the fact that the city’s Animal Control policy states that strays must be kept at the shelter for a minimum of 72 hours before decisions regarding their futures are made, Roxy and her entire litter had already been euthanized.

“My little girl keeps asking about her,” Sarah says through tears in the KBMT report that broke the story. “It’s like I’m sorry, baby, she’s not coming home.”

The Landsittels' family pet Roxy

The Landsittels' family pet Roxy

It was two days before Christmas when a pair of Animal Control officers were called to the Landsittels’ neighborhood after a property owner complained about animal whines beneath his building. The officers arrived, removed the dogs, and brought them to Orange’s animal shelter. Less than two hours later a beloved family pet and her puppies were gone.

In the comments section below the KBMT report, Sarah’s husband Jacob explained that prior to the incident with Animal Control a large pine tree had fallen and crushed part of their fence, creating a situation where Roxy was able to stray outside the Landsittels’ property. He goes on to say that the family tried for days to remove Roxy from under the building but couldn’t, and that due to work and the insanity of the holidays they just weren’t able to get it done. He further stated that free-roaming dogs are not uncommon in their neighborhood.

As to why Roxy and her pups were under a neighbor’s building in the first place, the reason was addressed by Sarah in a Facebook post. It was raining, she explained, and Roxy was simply protecting her litter.

In a statement from the city, Orange Fire Chief David Frenzel—the man who’s supervised the animal shelter for the past twenty years—said: “City policy was not followed…We apologize to the owner of the animals…We’re doing what we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.”

The story was picked up by the area’s largest newspaper, the Beaumont Enterprise, and in a January 22 article Chief Frenzel stressed that the two Animal Control officers who euthanized the Landsittels’ pets were dedicated workers who simply “made an error in judgment.” He said the employees had been disciplined but that both would keep their jobs. When pressed about the manner of disciplinary action taken Chief Frenzel declined to comment, citing “personnel information confidentiality.”

The chief made sure to add that, while he felt bad about what happened to Roxy and the pups, there just wasn’t anything else to be done about it going forward.

And that’s it. The Landsittels are exploring their legal options and a petition has been started to have the two employees fired, but as far as the city is concerned the matter has been resolved.


The tragedy that befell Roxy and her puppies, and the indefinite position in which the Landsittels now find themselves, highlights a core aspect of our system of government. And that is, that those members of society who cash government paychecks—be they Animal Control officers or United States senators—have virtually zero accountability to the rest of us.

It’s no secret that public sector workers, on average, receive higher salaries, better benefits, and far greater job security than their private sector counterparts. And there is, of course, logic behind this. By making the prospect of governmental employment so attractive, the demand for the limited supply of jobs (though not so limited these days, it seems) goes up. And once such a cushy position is landed, the individual naturally wants to hang onto it. Thus, government workers are highly incentivized to defend the system that provides their livelihood.

And while the financial side of this arrangement is easy enough to grasp, the job security angle is a bit more complex. But it essentially boils down to the fact that because government employees are so confident they won’t get fired, they have very little reason—again, incentive—to do a good job. Honestly…why go the extra mile when going the extra mile nets you the same reward as napping in the break room?

Inevitably, some would point to voting as a check against government abuse and incompetence. That electing a candidate somehow makes that candidate accountable to a constituency, and that once in power the elected official is obligated to see to it that the government employees under his watch have nothing but the public good at heart. This is comical, especially given the fact that the notion of politicians being loyal to their campaign contributors alone is practically mainstream in today’s society.

I would concede, however, that the voting argument has at least some merit when applied to the local level, where voters get to interact with those they put into office on a day-to-day basis. In such a situation, true accountability may in fact be attainable. And if that’s how you choose to run things, then more power to you. But at the same time, I would argue that in such a situation the act of voting would be unnecessary, because the positions of elected authority themselves would be unnecessary. Think about it. If everyone is truly on equal footing, such as on the local level where folks literally see eye to eye daily, then there’s no need for one individual to reign over another as an “official.”


Ultimately, the sad truth about the Landsittels’ predicament is that Chief Frenzel is right. There really is nothing that can be done. A family’s cherished pet is gone, and no amount of governmental apologies or conciliatory gestures can bring the animal back. Not that the city of Orange is offering any type of compensation for the Landsittels’ loss, and that’s the point. The city is offering no reparations because the city doesn’t feel it has to.

In fact, forget reparations. The city won’t even disclose the type of disciplinary action taken against the two of its employees who decided snuffing out the lives of eleven puppies and their mother was preferable to waiting the 72 hours that policy demands. In the place of even that small gesture of recompense, the Landsittels instead get a government man who simply shrugs and says they’ll try to do better next time.

Which is to be expected. Remember, government has a vested interest in the promise of job security for its workers. It must tread carefully when it comes to disciplining its own. If governments suddenly began axing every low-level shlubb who broke a family’s heart, they might soon find it difficult to fill positions with the loyal minions needed to prop up the system. And that would put the gravy train at risk for the higher-ups. Clearly, this will not do.

The Landsittels are planning on getting another Akita. In a sane world the city of Orange would offer to pay whatever costs accompanied that process. The city won’t, of course, and it wouldn’t actually change anything if it did. Because, very simply, the Landsittels feel an irreparable injustice was done. And to anyone looking at what happened to Roxy (except maybe those who are drawing a government check) it’s absurd to deny they’re right.