Alabama’s Strip Clubs of Death
A strip club regular in Rialto, California, was so obsessed with a dancer he went to the club for several months specifically to see her. But when she refused to go home with him one night a few weeks ago, he shot her in the face—and then he shot himself in the head.
The stripper survived and is now in stable condition. The man is dead. And this kind of violence isn’t particularly rare. According to various local news reports I’ve been combing through, strip clubs in the US have already seen at least 11 shootings this year, which resulted in nine deaths. And that number doesn’t even include the bouncer at a Tennessee strip club who was shot with an arrow.
Reasons for the shootings vary. Most of the time, it’s the result of a fight between patrons that gets out of hand, or a drunk who’s thrown out of the club and comes back with a gun for revenge. In a few cases, they were robberies gone wrong.
But what causes the violence? Your regular armchair psychologist might say the combination of booze and boobs causes men to revert to a primal state and try to kill each other. Richard McCleary, one of the few criminologists who have studied this subject, claims that violence happens because strip clubs with lax security attract unsavory people who carry weapons and end up causing violent situations.
The truth is probably a combination of the two theories, with a dash of America’s gun-obsessed culture thrown in. At least, that’s how it is in Alabama.
The Imaginary Republic of Molossia
I am driving to a place that doesn’t exist. I am doing this because the President of Molossia emailed me. He’d seen something I’d written about his little nation, so he invited me for a visit. “I will gladly escort you around Molossia and show you the sights; it would be an honor,” he wrote. “I hope you will favorably consider my invitation and come see our great nation! Warmest regards, His Excellency President Kevin Baugh, Republic of Molossia.”
“Is he crazy?” friends ask me, but I don’t know the answer yet.
On a Friday in September, I begin the long drive from Berkeley through the Sierra Nevadas. I skirt the north end of Lake Tahoe and hit traffic headed to Reno for the holiday weekend. In Reno, I sleep over a casino. The next morning I drive through Virginia City, Nevada, an old boomtown over a vein of silver ore where Mark Twain began his writing career, just outside a fictitious locale made famous by Bonanza. Molossia is a reasonable distance into the desert. I spot the sign:
His Excellency Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia, emerges from the house dressed like a caudillo: he wears a tricolor sash of the Molossian national flag looped through a gold epaulette. Beneath the hat, a pair of Kim Jong Il-style sunglasses cover half of his face. He welcomes me enthusiastically, pumping my hand as if I am a long-awaited diplomat. I am encouraged to pay the customs fee: my pocket change. I deposit it into a tin can affixed to the door the Customs Booth. A sign informs me that many things are not permitted in the Republic of Molossia. Among them: firearms, ammunition, explosives, catfish, spinach, missionaries and salesmen, onions, walruses, and anything from Texas with the exception of Kelly Clarkson.
I tour the “country”—there is a miniature-scale Molossian railroad, national parks, battlefields, and cemeteries. The president moves from place to place talking about Molossia’s various conflicts: the Dead Dog War, the War with Mustachistan. I participate in the Molossian Space Program by launching a stomp rocket and am awarded the title of Space Cadet, along with a certificate.
I Guess We Need to Say It Again: George W. Bush Was the Worst
above: Look at this colossal fucking piece of shit. Photo via Rex USA
Americans get stereotyped as stupid, but I think it’s unfair to call us ignorant, exactly—the problem is that we, as a nation, have a short memory. Sometimes this constant state of collective amnesia serves us well, allowing the country to move on from tragedy and put out of our minds the failures and injustices of, but sometimes it results in 47 percent of Americans say that they approve of George W. Bush. That’s according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC in advance of the opening of his new presidential library, which opened today and seems devoted to telling visitors, “Sure, Dubya started wars, condoned torture, dug the country deeper into debt, and watched as terrorists launched the most successful attack on US soil ever, but it was really, really hard to be president, you guys. Would you have done any better? Thought not, asshole.” Even if that 47 percent number is too high, it’s clear that a majority of Republicans still think he did a pretty good job
That’s a fucking disgrace, y’all.
I guess we have to issue a disclaimer: any look back on an ex-president’s record is going to be tinged with ideology and personal beliefs—conservatives really hate Woodrow Wilson, for reasons Glenn Beck can explain to you; liberals despise Ronald Reagan, who’s practically a saint in Republican circles. And parts of Dubya’s legacy are open for debate. You can have wonkish arguments over the pros and cons of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit he signed into law; you can scoff, as Ron Paul has, at Bush’s expansion of foreign aid or you can note how much good he did Africa. But the big-ticket stuff, the important things he did and didn’t do when he was the most powerful elected official in the world, were all pretty much uniformly awful.
Start with the Bush tax cuts, which were enacted thanks to the GOP’s pathological hatred for taxes and the surplus the government was running at the time. They jacked up the deficit while mostly giving money back to rich people, but the real trick was setting them up to expire in 2010—when, the people pushing the cuts must have known, allowing them to do so would have been the same as raising taxes, which is political poison in America. (Sure enough, after a hideous fight on the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” most of the cuts are permanent.)
Cops’ Military Tools Aren’t Just for Catching Terrorists
above: A SWAT tank parked in the Boston Commons on April 16, 2013. Photo via Flickr user Vjeran Pavic
On April 19, a million Bostonians stayed locked down in their homes while 9,000 cops combed the metro area for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the marathon bombing. In Watertown, cops went door-to-door and removed homeowners at gunpoint before searching their houses. Tsarnaev was found in that town around 8 PM by the owner of the boat sitting in his backyard that the 19-year-old suspected terrorist had chosen as his hiding place.
The lockdown was something new. Not serial killers, not cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner’s LA rampage, not even 9/11 shut down a city like this. Still, Bostonians seemed fine with staying inside for the most part. Cops found their guy relatively quickly, and the city partied in the streets afterwards. During the manhunt, a tough-looking officer even brought two gallons of milk to a family with young children, serving as a perfect meme to refute any accusations of jackbooted thuggery. Even some normally anti-police libertarians urged restraint in reacting to the manhunt.
What shouldn’t go unmentioned, however, is that while the circumstances were unique, the military muscle displayed by law enforcement is hardly reserved for responding to rare acts of terrorism. Videos from the lockdown—particularly this piece of paranoia-porn, in which a SWAT team orders a family out of their home at gunpoint and one of the officers screams “get away from the window!” at the videographer—either look frightening or grimly necessary, according to your views. But haven’t we seen displays like this before?
Forget Gun Control—Let’s Ban the Senate.
Above: Seriously, fuck these guys. Photo via Rex USA
By now, you’ve probably already heard that the Senate voted down a gun control proposal yesterday—actually, they voted down a lot of different proposals, but the one that got the most attention was an amendment, proposed by Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, that would have essentially mandated background checks for everyone who buys a gun.
The argument for the Toomey–Manchin amendment was pretty easy to explain, even to a child: “Well, Timmy, guns might be tools for hunting, they might be collected and handled safely by millions of hobbyists and enthusiasts, but it’s also really, really easy to kill people if you have a gun—it would be a good idea to make sure that the people who were buying guns weren’t crazy or criminals.” [tousles Timmy’s hair playfully] The arguments against the amendment were mostly that criminals wouldn’t obey the law anyway, that background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Newtown massacre, and that the amendment was actuallytoo pro-gun—all of which would seem to indicate that we need more restrictions on gun ownership, not fewer. As many as 91 percent of Americans supported expanded background checks at one point; if anything had a chance to pass through the world’s greatest deliberative body, it was that piece of mild, mostly symbolic legislation.
That it didn’t pass isn’t an example of cowardice on the part of senators who didn’t vote for it, or some fatal flaw on behalf of its sponsors. It’s just another case of the Senate being cripplingly, pathetically gridlockedand unable to do anything for anyone.
It should be pointed out, repeatedly, that most senators voted for the Toomey–Manchin amendment—54 out of 100—but you need 60 votes to pass anything, and the reasons why are much harder to explain to a child than the reasons for the amendment itself: “You see, Timmy, although the Founding Fathers stipulated that bills could pass either house of Congress by a simple majority, they also put this thing in there that let any senator stall a vote by making a speech, and uhhhh, thanks to a series of procedural reforms enacted over the years, now a senator can just stop a bill by saying no once, and it takes 60 votes to overrule that no. This is good because, um. Fuck you, that’s why. Go play your Xbox.”
The Former Civil Rights Activist Who Created the Right to Bear Arms
The first time I saw a gun was in high school, when a stoned friend of mine decided it would be funny to point one at my head.
Five very long seconds later, he put the gun down, laughed his ass off, and I didn’t end up on the local news that night. But with the state of the debate over guns the way it is, I can’t help but think that if I had been killed like that, gun rights advocates would use the case to prove their point that we need more guns, not fewer. They would have said that my death just proves that crazy people on drugs need to be put in jail so they don’t shoot people. Or they’d say that somebody else with a gun should have been around to shoot my friend before he shot me.
I’ve been having trouble understanding these lines of reasoning, so I called up Don Kates—one of the men responsible for the progun rhetoric of today.
Kates is a Yale-educated lawyer who started his legal career fighting for civil rights in the South during the 1960s. A few years later, however, he ended up at the NRA, crafting legal arguments and publishing academic papers that defended the Second Amendment and inspiring many of the gun rights mantras people use today. His work has been used over the years by lawyers on behalf of gun rights and was an important factor in Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision in DC v. Heller, the Supreme Court case that ruled individuals, as opposed to militias, have a constitutional right to own and use a gun.
That case is a big reason you hear a lot of people these days saying, “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?” And Kates is a big reason gun rights proponents are so confident they are right.
VICE: You describe yourself as a long-time liberal Democrat. So how did you become a gun rights scholar who worked for the NRA?
Don Kates: From my teenage years, I had always had an affection for guns. And when I was a law student, I became a civil rights worker with the Law Students Civil Rights Defense Council, an organization that’s probably been defunct for decades.
As a civil rights worker in the South, I carried various guns—as did many other whites in the movement—for protection. And Southern black civil rights activists were almost all armed, since they were largely rural Southerners. I recall one night when I sat watch outside the home of a black teacher who had been threatened along with five or six blacks. I was underarmed since what I had was the ineffectual M1 carbine. I didn’t know any better. The blacks with whom I was sitting watch all had shotguns or battle rifles.
The image of gun-toting civil rights activists is one that’s rarely depicted, especially given their reputation of nonviolence. But there were guns around. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. allegedly had an “arsenal” in his home. Why do you think it’s not talked about very often?
I assume that is because it would contradict the pacifist image of civil rights activists. The publicity we received came from journalists who were themselves quasi pacifist and antigun, so self-defense and gun ownership were not things they were attuned to, much less what they wanted to portray.
My State Wants to Establish an Official Religion
The United States Constitution is a subjective document written by a bunch of men with wigs and wooden teeth and fancy pants in the 18th century who couldn’t possibly have foreseen the shape our modern world would take. So, when they wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” right there in the First Amendment, they didn’t mean to make it totally impossible to establish a state religion.
At least, that’s the logic of Edgar Starnes, the Majority Leader in the North Carolina General Assembly, who isbacking a resolution that would allow North Carolina to declare an official state religion. A religion like, for example, Christianity. The bill argues that although the First Amendment is a thing that exists, the Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional.” Which means that North Carolina citizens like Petey Pablo and Michael Jordan and their representatives can interpret the constitution however they see fit. If they want to make Christianity the law of the land, or institute the death penalty for adulterers, they totally can, according to them.
Like Michael Jordan, I am from North Carolina, and from experience, I know that Christianity is already pretty much an unofficial state religion. The place is crawling with Bibles. As of 2001, 79 percent of North Carolinians were Christians, and new churches are popping up all over the place. My mother even helped found one of them two years ago. The call for giving North Carolina an official religion is similar to the argument made by a bunch of other people with too much time on their hands who want the United States torecognize English as its official language. Eighty percent of US citizens are native English speakers, so why bother dealing with a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense to make it official?
Russian Orthodox Priests Want to Take Back Alaska and Save Its Non-Gays
Back in the day (by which I mean from 1733-1867), Alaska was a Russian colonial possession. In 1867, we bought it off the Russkies for two cents an acre. That may sound like a measly sum, but in those days two cents was considered riches—you could buy a pair of Air Force 1s with it and still have enough change left over to start your own slave colony.
Anyway, last weekend, a Russian Orthodox group known as the Pchyolki called bullshit on that deal and demanded that Alaska be returned to Russia. These guys previously gained notoriety for their reaction to Pussy Riot’s controversial performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, when they produced a handy guide for any Russian Orthodox Christians unlucky enough to be accosted by blasphemers. Apparently you’re supposed to destroy their electronic equipment with holy water, spit in their faces, and keep in mind to “avoid shedding of blood in the church itself, but if the scorners are violent outside the church grounds, you shall fight back accordingly.”
Media reports suggested that the issue of gay marriage had prompted the demand to get Alaska back. Predictably, the group isn’t too happy about two guys exchanging vows and with Obama said to be considering that very act, the Pchyolki are taking preemptive action to protect the state’s Orthodox Christian community. I phoned up Nikolay Bondarenko, the Pchyolki leader, for a chat.
VICE: Hi Nikolay. Why are you questioning the legitimacy of the USA’s ownership of Alaska?
Nikolay Bondarenko: Because the original deal wasn’t done properly. Legally, the USA shouldn’t own Alaska. In the legal documents of the original deal that sold Alaska to the US government in the 1960s it specifies the terms of payment—it says that Russia will sell Alaska to America for $7.2 million and payment of the equivalent of this sum should be made by gold. But in fact the payment was made by check. Why was that? It is not known where that actual check is now, so we can’t even prove that Russians received that payment. At the time Russia and the USA were allies, so whoever was responsible for that deal must have done it on purpose.
Why do you want Alaska back?
As a human rights organization we have to think about the rights of the Russians and other Orthodox people of Alaska. Article three of the original agreement highlighted that all people living there will be treated by the government according to their traditions, beliefs, and religion, and the majority of residents were Orthodox. When Obama announced his plans to legalize same-sex marriage, we realized it will really affect the Orthodox population of Alaska and it will directly violate the agreement.
Have you wanted it back before now? What prompted you to file the lawsuit?
We could have claimed it back a few months ago; we could have claimed it back 100 years ago. The formal “trigger” was the Schneerson Library case, when, a few months ago, an American court ordered Russia to hand over the library to Hasidic jews of America with a $50,000 fine for every day it wasn’t returned. This was very outrageous and caused a lot of discussion.
How do you rate your chances of getting it back?
We have much better legal grounds to get Alaska back than they had then, so we are quite positive about our chances.
Bradley Manning’s Court Testimony—Leaked
When Army Pfc. Bradley Manning spoke before a military judge at length for only the second time ever last month, the media gallery next to the Fort Meade, Maryland, courtroom was arguably the most crowded it has been since the 25-year-old army private was arraigned one year earlier. Clearly, I was not the only one in attendance that morning weighing whether or not it was worth risking my career, my reputation, and a possible military reprimand by recording the soldier’s testimony: this morning, audio of his guilty plea was leaked to the web by an anonymous source.
The significance of Pfc. Manning’s statement doesn’t begin and end with what he said last month. Yes, the army-intelligence officer admitted for the first time ever during the roughly hour-long reading that he did, in fact, cause the biggest intelligence leak in the US history. And, yes, as many assumed, he did supply the whistleblower website WikiLeaks with a trove of sensitive documents that he thought would embarrass the very country he swore to protect. His words weren’t the only ones that mattered, though.
By finally admitting to sharing war logs, State Department cables, and hundreds of thousands of protected files, Pfc. Manning was no longer the “accused” WikiLeaks source or the “alleged supplier” of some of the rawest evidence of American misdeeds in the Iraq and Afghan wars. He owned up. Yes, he did it, and a few dozen members of the press were hearing with their own ears why. Those members of the press have painstakingly referred to Pfc. Manning as, largely, anything but the proven WikiLeaks source since his military detainment began over 1,000 days ago. Now, however, he can be properly credited. And he should be.
Pfc. Manning said he leaked video footage of Iraqi civilians being murdered by Americans to spark debate. And sharing State Department cables, he said, was to show the world what the United States was really doing abroad. It was the first time I ever heard his voice, and it was a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Bradley Manning Pleaded Guilty Yesterday: ‘I Did It’
After a blizzard blanketed the mid-Atlantic in early 2010, a 22-year-old soldier home on leave in Potomac, Maryland, braved the storm in hopes of locating an Internet connection that, unlike the one at his aunt’s house where he was staying, hadn’t been severed by nearly two feet of snow.
When Private first class Bradley Manning made it to a Barnes & Noble bookstore outside of Washington, D.C., he unpacked his laptop, logged-on to the complimentary Starbucks Wi-Fi and searched for some files he had burned onto a disc back in Kuwait before Christmas. It was in that shop, surrounded by comic books and minimum-wage-earning baristas, that the slight and bespectacled soldier uploaded classified and unclassified military files to the website WikiLeaks, an action that remains the target of both a CIA probe and a grand jury investigation three years later—and that yesterday landed Manning in court in Fort Meade, Maryland, where he pleaded guilty to ten criminal charges and will now likely serve twenty years in prison. “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information,” Manning said yesterday in court, which I attended, “this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
The government’s case—and public opinion about the young soldier’s act—has hinged on the assertion that Manning’s leak put the United States in danger by making sensitive military information public. The files leaked by Manning include the now-infamous “collateral murder” video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq, in which US soldiers mistake a group of journalists and civilians for insurgents and then kill them; US diplomatic cables about the collapse of three major financial institutions in Iceland; files on detainees in Guantanamo; and portions of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. “They capture what happens [on] a particular day in time,” Manning said about the war logs.
Manning was captured by American officials in May 2010—after he’d gone back to Kuwait to continue his service in an intelligence center—when the ex-hacker turned goody-two-shoes Adrian Lamo, who had been in communication about the files with Manning via email, tipped off the FBI. Manning was then accused of an onslaught of charges related to allegations that he supplied material to WikiLeaks. Since then, Pfc. Manning has been imprisoned without trial for over 1,000 days. Only during Thursday’s testimony, though, did he own up to those crimes and explain to the world with his own words why he willingly released materials that have changed history—if not in the way Manning had originally intended.
When he finally finished reading the 35-page statement prepared for the court Thursday afternoon, a handful of supporters and members of the press seated before a closed-circuit stream of the testimony across the Army base erupted in applause. The only other time they ever heard the soldier speak at length was this December when he testified to the conditions he endured while jailed in a military brig after first being detained. His treatment there was so egregious that the presiding judge, Col. Denise Lind, agreed to take four months off of any eventual sentence handed down.
But for voluntarily admitting his crimes during a pretrial hearing on Thursday nearly three years after the fact, Pfc. Manning stands to face upwards of 20 years in prison. After his case is formally court-martialed beginning in June, though, he could be sent away for life. Because he gave classified information to WikiLeaks and, thus, the world, the government says he sent that intelligence into the ether and helped aid anti-American terrorists. The government could legally execute the soldier, now 25, if they convict him on that charge.