Dispatches from the belly of the bearshark

Politics. Art. Flim-flam of the Proletariat

Trump, Twitter, and the Inevitable Chaos to Come

 

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On April 23, 2013, at 1:07 PM the Associated Press was the first to report via Twitter that two explosions had just ripped through the White House. President Obama was injured. 

No other information was available.

By 1:08 PM, Twitter users trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange reading the AP’s Tweet collectively lost their shit. 

For the next 180 seconds, absolute chaos reigned.

By 1:11 PM, the US economy had lost approximately $318 BILLION in the ensuing panic. The Dow Jones Industrial dropped by almost 150 points.

But by 1:12 PM, the AP began refuting the legitimacy of it’s own tweet and soon other news organizations began reporting the entire incident was in fact a complete fabrication. There were no explosions, the president was absolutely fine, and in response to the news that the most powerful person in the world hadn’t been injured in an attack on the most heavily protected building in the world the markets quickly rebounded.

It was later revealed that the initial tweet which had inflicted such catastrophic forces on the US financial markets in as little as three minutes was the responsibility of the Syrian Electronic Army; a collective of hackers who routinely caused trouble around the internet in the name of, so they argued, aiding the regime Syrian president dictator Bashar Al-Assad in that country’s civil war.

As a whole, the incident was largely shrugged off despite the enormous yet brief consequences wrought by a single, 60-character tweet. After all, Twitter accounts get hacked all the time.

Still…

…$318 billion gone…in just three minutes.

 

Flash forward to the present day:

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Since being elected president, Donald Trump has transformed his Twitter account into an unprecedented economic and political cudgel. Whether it’s causing the stock values of Toyota and Lockheed-Martin to drop or shares in uranium mining to soar;  @realdonaldtrump has the power to upend markets, coerce foreign governments, and potentially wreak unprecedented levels of havoc.

See, Twitter is remarkably easy to hack. Donald Trump would know:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-16-13-pmFrom how-to videos on Youtube to an instructional website creatively titled Twitterhacking.com, breaking into individual accounts on the micro-blogging site doesn’t necessitate the sort of expertise employed by, say, state-sponsored Russian hackers working to interfere in an election or even a 400-pound guy on a couch…somewhere in New Jersey.

The exact same security measures are employed for all accounts regardless of the user’s notoriety, celebrity, or if they have personal access to the launch codes of a 4,000 warhead fleet of nuclear weapons.

The site’s glaring vulnerability to hackers has been proven again and again.

The aforementioned Syrian Electronic Army hacked the official Twitter accounts of the United Army and of President Obama in 2013, sending out several Tweets that linked followers to Pro-Assad websites.

A collective of hackers that includes a teenaged boy in Saudi Arabia routinely hacks the accounts of CEOs, business moguls, and celebrities in effort to seemingly draw attention to the websites lagging security.

And while there are security protocols Trump’s staff could employ to further encrypt sensitive accounts in the administration, Trump and a number of his top staff have failed to implement some of the most effective yet basic features, even those offered by Twitter. A hacker responsible for breaking into approximately 500 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts said to reporters today that Trump needs to upgrade his security features ASAP.

Consider that Trump’s insistence to continue using his extremely vulnerable Twitter account as a primary form of communication for everything from urging his followers to check out non-existent sex tapes to economic policy making makes it a target for a litany of potential predators, not just key-board jihadists:

Someone seeking to personally enrich themselves could hack the account and post a litany of condemnatory messages about this corporation or that, causing the stock values of competitors to sky rocket. After all, there is now an app called Trigger that alerts followers whenever the president Tweets about a publicly traded company. A deft observer of the markets could theoretically make a tidy fortune off of a single tweet.

Additionally, corporations wanting to engage in a little market manipulation of their own could engage in similar tactics, posting under the president’s handle to denigrate their competitors in order to increase the value of their own stocks.

Hackers acting on behalf of the direction of enemy nation states could sew discord and ratchet up existing tensions. Trump has displayed a repeated inability to adhere to long established decorums of tactical restraint when it comes to dealing with America’s adversaries. A hacked tweet declaring the deployment of military forces in a volatile region, an impending attack, or personally insulting a revered leader of figurehead could lead to actual conflict or violence in the period between the post is made and when its eventually refuted upon being discovered.

Even Leftist political opponents seeking to delegitimize Trump could use a hacked @realdonaldtrump to fire off a variety of inflammatory missives, alienating allies, further enraging critics, and casting doubt on the validity of any future tweets he posts. Considering that Trump’s twitter has been hacked before, his opponents might argue, who’s to say its not being hacked right now? The very  word of the President could be devalued, forcing the American people and our allies to constantly take with a grain of salt everything he posts, wondering if it’s really Trump making these statements or someone posting under his guise.

One might assume that Trump and his national security team have considered these consequences regarding his erratic tweeting and taken the necessary precaution; but that assumption would apparently be wrong. As reported by Fox News, Trump is still carrying around his old, unsecured Android phone and members of staff, just like Hillary Clinton, routinely use private servers to send and receive emails.

Increasingly, Trump’s supporters are joining in among the diverse chorus of voices urging him to stop tweeting altogether. Whether it’s the perception that his inability to shrug off any attack and in turn need to childishly rant about is unbefitting of the Office of the President or that his repeated attacks on individual corporations is wholly antithetical to Conservative ideology that dictates an unregulated economy, not the government, should determine which companies succeed or fail, it would do all well remember what happened on April 23, 2013….

One tweet….3 minutes….$318 billion gone.

 

 

 

 

Jesus was very clear on what a “proven Christian” should do regarding Syrian refugees

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In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, paranoia and fear among the knee-jerk reactionaries around the country is running at a fever pitch. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks that claimed 129 lives, initial news reports stated that a Syrian passport was found next to the body of one of the dead attackers, prompting some to argue that jihadists loyal to the so-called “Islamic State” are posing as refugees. Even though it has been subsequently reported that the passport in question was either stolen or forged and that black market Syrian passports are in extremely high demand, such information has done little to abate the frenzied paranoia of the Right Wing.

Presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham among others have gone so far as to demand that only “proven Christians” be allowed to emigrate to the United States from among the 10,000 Syrian refugees slotted to resettle here. Apparently, even though the security screening process for all potential refugees involves multiple background checks from several government intelligence agencies, an in-person interview, medical tests, and “cultural orientation” classes before they are allowed to even enter the country, because these people are Muslim they therefore cannot be trusted.

It’s ironic, perhaps, that Jesus was very specific on how his self-proclaimed followers should deal with those in need. From the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 through 46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

From the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, verses 25 through 37:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

It would seem, according to Jesus, that the refugees aren’t the ones who need to prove they’re Christians right now.

Election Fraud? Nope, Just Kentucky Politics As Usual

Accusations that last week’s General Election in Kentucky was possibly rigged to ensure a victory for GOP-candidate Matt Bevin over Democrat Jack Conway have slowly gained traction over the past few days. What began in earnest as an Alternet.com article from writer Randa Morris has spread to other, for lack of a better word, “alternative” news sites like Addictinginfo.com and Reverbpress.com. There’s even a Change.org petition with over 7,000 signatories that asks Secretary of State Allison Lundergan-Grimes to order a hand count of every ballot cast to ensure there was no foul play.

On its nose, Morris’ article (which relies heavily on speculative writing from popular political blogger Brad Friedman) does make a series of points that at first even had me peering leerily at my laptop.

How is that Jack Conway was so widely favored going into the polls but lost by nearly 9 percentage points?

How did other down-ticket Democrats get so many more votes than the candidate for governor?

Could Kentucky’s recent history of voter fraud convictions and ballot irregularities signify a nefarious Commonwealth-wide plot to elect a man with zero political experience hellbent on detrimentally affecting the varied interests of the very constituents that elected him?

Sorry folks, but “fraud” to you is “just another day in Kentucky politics” to me.

I’ve written before about the myriad identities the Bluegrass State contains within her broad palette of customs and cultures. From that diverse cross-section of humanity, a political schizophrenia has emerged that, evidenced by these accusations of election fraud make it clear, “Y’all aint from around here, are ya?”

Look alive, people, for i am about to lay this conspiracy theory out before ye like a shot squirrel.

Polling is an inexact science based upon the most unpredictable element in existence: people. 

Human beings are weirdos. We make mistakes, change our minds, get angry over private corporations not decorating disposable coffee cups with our preferred religious symbolism, and so on and so forth. So when it comes to predicting how people are going to act in terms of electing public officials, there is in deed a substantial margin for error.

Writing for the Washington Post, Phillip Bump argues that the pollsters got the 2015 election wrong for two reasons; one, that there simply weren’t enough polls conducted over the month leading up to the election to accurately predict the public’s temperament, and two, due to the lack of conducted polls, incorrect assumptions were made about the intentions of the Kentucky electorate.

The website USelectionatlas.org contains one of the most comprehensive collections of statistical data about ‘Murican elections I’ve come across. To test Bump’s theory, let’s take into account the 2007 Kentucky General Election that predicted within 1 to 2 percentage points that Democrat Steve Beshear would wallop Republican Ernie Fletcher. When cross-referencing pre-election polling data…

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With the final election results…

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We see a strong numeralical corollary between what was predicted, and what the voters eventually chose. Between October 24, 2007 and the day before the election, November 4, 2007, there were 5 different polls conducted. That’s 5 polls conducted in 12 days. According to Bump’s article, pollsters only conducted 5 polls over the course of four weeks (between October 1, and October 28) in the 2015 election. In a month’s time, any number of catalytic events can occur that will effect why voters turn out and for whom. National events, growing political trends, scandals, etc. Due to the infrequent surveys, pollsters assumed that undecided voters would either overwhelmingly vote democrat or not at all, a prediction they got dead wrong.

Kentucky has a penchant for electing candidates from both parties by wide margins.

Friedman’s article sites Bev Harris of Blackboxvoting.com, a non-partisan website devoted to election transparency stating that the potential for fraud in Kentucky’s election exists in part due to, “…Discrepancies in the down ballot races. More votes in those races and not at the top…that just doesn’t happen.” To clarify, Harris is referencing the disparities in vote counts that exists between Conway (426,620 total votes) who lost and fellow Democrats Allison Lundergan-Grimes (493,204 total votes) and Andy Beshear (479,567 total votes) who both won their respective races.

Sorry folks, but in Kentucky it does happen, all of the goddamned time.

The 2003 Kentucky General Election saw victory for Republican Ernie Fletcher (598,284 total votes) over Democratic opponent Ben Chandler (487,159 total votes). Yet, if you look at other down-ticket races, you’ll see several other instances whereby candidates from both parties garnered substantially disproportionate amounts of the electorate than those running for governor by wide margins.

Looking at the results of the 2007 General Election reveals substantial discrepancies between aggregate votes cast, margins of victory, and the party affiliations of winners and losers. Incumbent Ernie Fletcher lost to democratic challenger Steve Beshear by a margin of approximately 184,000 votes. That same election, Democrat Jack Conway defeated Republican Stan “Not the Creator of Spider-Man” Lee for the office of Attorney General by over 200,000 votes. Democrat Crit Luallen defeated Republican Linda Greenwell for State Auditor by 183,000 votes.

And yet, Republican Trey Grayson was elected to the office of Secretary of State over Democrat Bruce Hendrickson by 142,000 votes. An even more glaring ass-whipping came in the form of Republican Richie Farmer being elected Secretary of Agriculture over his democratic opponent David Lynn Williams by nearly 300,000 votes. To put that in perspective, Farmer received 644,036 total votes, earning 208,263 more votes than fellow Republican and incumbent governor Ernie Fletcher.

Again, if you look at the results of the 2011 Kentucky General Election, you’ll see repeated instances of down-ticket candidates earning tens of thousands more votes than members of their own party running in the gubernatorial race. Republican challenger David Williams earned a total of 294, 034 votes running for governor against incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear. And yet, Republican Bill Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of State, garnered a total of 321, 065 votes. The Republican candidate for Attorney General, Todd Poole, earned 367,661 total votes.

Perhaps a longer observation of Kentucky General Elections would yield results more in line with the conspiratorial narrative; but as for the last 4 election cycles, huge disparities between aggregate vote counts isn’t a sign of foul play…

…It’s the norm.

Successfully perpetrating election fraud on a state-wide level is pretty much impossible. 

Davis’ Alternet piece argues that a case of election fraud from Clay County, Kentucky provides a rational basis for being skeptical of an authentic Bevin victory. In 2011, a group of eight people were convicted in a vote buying scheme that involved election officials, a school superintendent, and even a circuit court judge. While this individual instance of corruption is appalling, it hardly serves as a template for justifying the probability of a massive conspiracy. The Clay County officials were both Republicans and Democrats whose crimes were orchestrated with the intent of retaining power and making money. Partisan ideology wasn’t the primary motivator, it was getting paid.

Additionally, some of those convicted received sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Think about it. In one county, a handful of people were still eventually caught for election fraud that earned some of them decades in prison. Even though the conviction came several years after the crimes were committed, somebody somewhere alerted officials, or blabbed to the wrong person, or any other scenario whereby people get caught when breaking the law.

Kentucky has 120 counties, so even if the GOP were to rig the ballots in half of those, it would still require hundreds of people wholly and fearlessly committed to Matt Bevin so much that they would risk imprisonment in a federal penitentiary if caught, just to see him elected.

Yeah right.

So, what happened? 

First and foremost:

Despite there being far more registered Democrats than Republicans in Kentucky, the Bluegrass is overwhelmingly socially conservative.  While the peoples of Louisville and Lexington have long established histories of electing Democrats and enacting progressive legislation, the majority of the state stands in diametric opposition on those self-same issues.

Jack Conway is a Catholic, liberal democrat from Louisville that was repeatedly in the media for aiding and abetting the domestic policies of the Obama administration. He has a flat, midwestern accent unlike other state Democrats that are southern in their demeanor. He ran an abysmal campaign for the US Senate in 2010 in which his most embarrassingly memorable moment was a toss up between getting scolded like an insipid child during a debate with opponent Rand Paul or  running the laughingly bad “Aqua Buddha” campaign ads.

As writer Jon Green points out in a piece for Americablog.com, Allison Lundergren Grimes and Andy Beshear, the only two Democrats who won their respective races (out of that 6 statewide elections) come from family’s with long established political ties and networks throughout the Commonwealth:

To get a sense of how far back these names go in Kentucky, Fred Beshear, current Governor Steve Beshear’s uncle, twice defeated Jerry Lundergan, Alison Lundergan-Grimes’s father, in Democratic primaries for House of Representatives seats in the 1970s.

In a state that’s increasingly conservative and at a time when political outsiders are fairing better in the polls than establishment candidates, voters are going to go with the guy that best reflects their ideals, regardless of whether or not they’re campaigning to serve their interests. Unfortunately, in Kentucky, it’s this guy:

So, You Think $43 Million Dollars Of Your Tax Money For An Afghan Gas Station Is Bad?

During his farewell address from the White House in January of 1961, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower levied a prophetic warning to the American people:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

A consummate advocate for reducing the potentially massive costs associated with maintaining a permanent standing army (troop and spending levels were raised and lowered as needed until the Korean War), Ike’s speech was not delivered singularly from his position as the outgoing Commander-in-Chief. As head general of the Allied Forces in the European Theater of Operations, Eisenhower had personally witnessed the incalculable misery inflicted by World War II. He had looked into the haunted eyes of those whom had survived Hitler’s “Final Solution,” seen young Americans killed by the thousands, the wounded screaming in agony in field hospitals, and driven through endless miles of swirling ash and smoking rubble that days before had been teeming cities.

He knew war, and as president during the period which Cold War tensions brought about massive shifts in America’s defense policies, he knew that the profitability of industrialized warfare could be dangerous to a republic.

Flash forward several decades and a gargantuan ballooning of the US Defense budget later to November 2, 2015, where one of the headlines making the rounds is a story about a single gas station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan that has, so far, cost the American taxpayers $43 million dollars.

Yes, you read that correctly.

$43 MILLION DOLLARS…FOR A GAS STATION.

Not only did this gas station, built with Department of Defense (DoD) funds through contractors, cost approximately $42.5 Million dollars more than the initial estimates, but it only sells an alternative natural gas-based fuel utilized by specially converted vehicles. From USA Today, “The Pentagon’s own contractor stated that [converting a car] to compressed natural gas costs $700 per car in Afghanistan. The average annual income there is $690.” To put it another light, according to the manager of the gas station in question (contacted by Vice News), he estimates “…That the station now serves around 250 natural gas-converted cars in the province of 500,000.”

The subsequent reaction from Congress has been predictably marked by outrage and shock with politicians from both parties demanding answers and bemoaning a lack of oversight and accountability. That, in and of itself, is un-fucking-believable. For the past several years, “bi-partisan” defense spending bills are passed by both democrats and republicans not because of some annually occurring miracle that somehow allows Congress to make compromises and govern, but because its a feeding frenzy. Congress routinely pads these bills with billions of dollars of projects that translate into jobs for their respective constituencies. It’s gotten to the point that one commanding general, Ray Odierno, has gone to Capitol Hill not once, not twice, but three separate times to ask the government to stop purchasing more $4.3 million dollar M-1 Abrams main battle tanks he said the military simply has zero need or use for, yet, they still keep buying them.

Regardless, that the United States Department of Defense has been wasting billions upon billions of dollars wholly unchecked for nearly two decades due to a combination of corporate greed, pitiful oversight, and political expedience is no secret. In fact, it’s widely disseminated public knowledge and has been since the very beginning of the Global War on Terror.

Even a cursory glance at the headlines over the past few years alone reveals an astounding number of incidents where tax payer money has funded one ridiculous project after the next through a reliance on government contractors and inept policy making:

A 2011 article from the Assoicated Press states that in a report presented to Congress by the Commision on Wartime Contracting, “…Through lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and payoffs to warlords and insurgents….at least $31 billion has been lost and the total could be as high as $60 billion. The commission called the estimate ‘conservative.’”

Another article from 2011 by Forbes contributor Loren Thompson provides a laundry list of vehicles and weapons systems at one time considered for deployment by the various branches of the US Military of which most never went beyond research and development. What did mere planning cost tax payers? Approximately $100 Billion.

Writer Laura Gottesdiener published a piece in 2012 for Alternet that detailed the luxurious lifestyles of the military’s approximately 1,000 admirals and generals. Perks include coteries of assistants, private jets, personal chefs, and lavish housing that costs, as reported by the New York Times, roughly $1 Million per year…per general. Gottesdiener goes on to write about a number of expensive scandals that have plagued some of the military higher-ups in addition to the 241 golf courses around the world bought for and maintained with DoD funding.

A 2013 special report from Reuters staff writer Scott Paltrow details how DoD employees at the Cleveland, Ohio based office of the Defense Financing and Accounting Service were routinely ordered to alter Navy spending records in order to match the aggregate budgetary figures supplied by the military match the tallies held by the US Treasury.

A 2014 article by Matthew Gault, a contributor to the popular military blog Warisboring.com, exposed that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), whose task it is to procure all manner of supplies necessitated by the nation’s armed forces from contracted producers routinely threw away millions of dollars of surplus or potentially faulty parts for the Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected Truck, or MRAP. Why the trash heap instead of simply returning the parts to the manufacturer? According to an anonymous DLA employee, “Due to time restraints, lack of training and just plain laziness the [agency’s quality-assurance specialists] have been disposing of millions and millions of dollars worth of new material every year.”

Speaking of the DLA, this troubled agency apparently has a penchant for astounding feats of government waste.

An ABC News piece, also from 2014, details how the DLA turned $486 Million worth of cargo planes purchased by the United States for the bourgeoning Afghan Air Force into $32,000 worth of scrap metal when it was determined that the planes were ill-suited for the arid Afghan climate.

News articles aside, there have been entire books written about the jaw-dropping financial waste perpetrated by the DoD. Perhaps foremost among these is Peter Van Buren’s scathing memoir We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A former Foreign Services Officer with the US State Department, Van Buren deployed to Iraq in 2009 with a Provincial Reconstruction Team tasked with jump-starting Iraq’s destroyed economy in the hopes of providing economic stability for the increasingly pessimistic Iraqi people in an attempt to stymie the appeal of radicalism.

Throughout Van Buren’s book, ineptitude, cronyism, and slack-jawed stupidity culminate in a litany of wasteful projects that served to only further alienate the Iraqi people from the country, and their system of government, that many had once hailed as liberators.

Some notable incidents from the book include:

-The construction of a $22.5 million dollar automated frozen chicken packaging plant, built in a country without a reliable electric grid (frozen chicken needs to be kept frozen and freezers need electricity) where the cost of a live chicken from the local market is a fraction of the pre-packaged kind.

-An ambassador that imported hundreds of square feet of sod from Kuwait via armored vehicles after tons of grass seed failed to take root in the public spaces around the American-controlled Green Zone. The estimated cost of shipping the sod varied anywhere from $2 to $5 million. Additionally, the cost of using thousands of gallons of purified water used to keep the sod alive in country suffering from staggering shortages of potable water (in and of itself responsible for innumerable deaths) is incalculable.

-Pastry-making classes for Iraqi women with the intent of inspiring them to open their own bakeries…in cities that largely lacked running water and electricity in the midst of a sectarian civil war.

-Paying $25,000 to a local acting troupe to produce a play about political reconciliation that was never produced or performed.

In short, the routine appearance of news stories about the glutinous use of tax payer’s funds is hardly news at all. It’s been happening for years with no end in sight. Politicians feigning anger when the occasional multi-million dollar boondoggle gets a few seconds in the 24-hour news cycle would be laughable were it not so wholly depressing; especially when you take into account the sufferings endured by deployed soldiers over the past 14 years of relentless warfare.

Families having to save up and buy their relatives body armor because the military doesn’t supply it for them, infantrymen in Afghanistan lacking helicopter air support that could have provided vital protection or life saving medical evacuation for those wounded during a fire fights, soldiers living in flea infested, plywood huts without the most basic amenities of modern living, all because the money is simply not there.

One would think that the seemingly inexorable persistence of the military’s unchecked use of tax payer funding might incur the ire of more politicians, especially those campaigning to reduce the national debt or adhere to a doctrine of “fiscal responsibility.” However, recent statements from a variety of the candidates running for president in 2016 would dictate otherwise. As long as politicians continue to pay lip service to “the troops” while wholly ignoring the long standing policies regarding essentially unrestricted defense spending, the American tax payer will continue to foot the bill while the American soldier continue to suffer as a result.

Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld said it best:

“You go to war with the army you have, not the army might want or wish to have…”

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: Congress Gambles With US Energy Security

Currently, legislation is headed to the US Senate after the House of Representatives voted to sell off substantial portions of the nation’s Strategic Oil Reserves in order to finance a variety of national projects; chief among them a Highway Transportation Bill and an overhaul to the drug screening process used by the Food and Drug Administration.

Hedging their bets on the current uptick in domestic oil production and the impossibility of some unforeseen calamitous event that might interrupt the global supply chain and throw the economy into chaos, (like the very event that caused the creation of the strategic oil reserve in the first place), Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) see the nation’s energy backup plan as an irresistible asset to sell off and make some scratch.

Never mind that the plan is based around a sales point of approximately $90 per barrel when the current market price is $50 per barrel and that, try as we all might, there is no predicting the future. The Syrian Civil War, Western sanctions against Russia’s increasing military belligerence, and the domestic politics of Venezuela in the Post-Hugo Chavez era are among an innumerable list of factors that conspire to determine the cost of oil on a moment to moment basis that, for some perplexing reason, seemingly held no governance in the crafting of the aforementioned legislation.

The proposed sell-off has been heavily derided by a number of scholars, economists, and politicians. Senator Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska), head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has become perhaps the most outspoken critic, stating:

“Any potential revenue raised through the ‘rightsizing’ of the [Strategic Petroleum Reserve] should be used to improve our nation’s energy security….Ensuring the operational effectiveness of the reserve should be our first priority.”

In deed. Originally constructed in the mid-1970’s, the 40-year old infrastructure used to house and transport the nation’s emergency supply of petroleum is due for a much needed upgrade.

One might think that finding other, more practical (raising taxes on the wealthiest 10% of Americans, closing tax loop holes employed by corporations, cutting military spending now that we’re not engaged in two ground wars) means of procuring revenue to fund the absolutely vital repairs required of the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure or the FDA or really any project other than gambling with the nation’s energy security might be cause for bi-partisan resourcefulness.

If you do, I’ve got a bridge on the verge of collapsing that I’d like to sell you.

People on Mopeds Saying “Ciao!” -or- Our Trip to Italy

For roughly two weeks in October, I had my life changed.

Housed atop the 7th century village of Amelia in the Umbrian Region of Italy, we ventured out across a foreign country steeped in a history and culture that began before the foundation of the Roman Empire.

These are some photos and thoughts of that journey, done so with my girlfriend Sarah (and for a few days her friend Becky), enabled by the kindness and generosity of Sarah’s grandmother, Judith.

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Roman Era Aquifer, still in use 1600 years later.

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View from Judith’s terrace onto the town of Amelia below and the valleys beyond

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View of walls surrounding Amelia. You still have to pass through the same main gates that have been in use for 14 centuries, except now it’s done in cars.

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A view outside on the streets of Amelia. People kept to themselves, spoke with their hands, and drove like maniacs at terrifying speeds through above streets.

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Judith’s Terrace at night. A frequent spot where we shared many a bottle of wine.

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Dawn over Umbria

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NaplesIMG_0296 IMG_0297 IMG_0300 IMG_0302 IMG_0305 IMG_0316 IMG_0317 IMG_0322 The Vatican IMG_0328 IMG_0329 IMG_0330 IMG_0332 IMG_0334 IMG_0335 IMG_0336 IMG_0337 IMG_0343 IMG_0344 IMG_0347 IMG_0348 IMG_0352 IMG_0354 The following three photographs are of hand-woven Belgian tapestries from the Medieval Period that depict the life of Christ. Measuring approximately 30’x20′ there were probably two dozen of them, installed along the walls of a narrow hallway that stretched on for hundred yards. IMG_0359 IMG_0360 IMG_0361 IMG_0367 IMG_0371

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American Volunteers Continue Legacy By Joining Fight Against ISIS

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A few days ago, it was confirmed in the media that Jordan Matson, a Wisconsin man and army veteran had travelled to Syria to fight along the YPG, or Kurdish People’s Protection Units, against ISIS. Today, another American, Brian Wilson, who claimed to be from Ohio and an army veteran as well, was interviewed by a Reuter’s news crew in Syria. He stated that he had come to fight ISIS.

That Americans are turning up in Syria and Iraq as volunteers to fight and possibly die as members of a foreign military in the name of protecting human dignity against an army motivated by brutal ideologies should surprise no one. We’ve seen this kind of thing before.

During World War I, they were known as the Lafayette Escadrille. A full year before the United States joined the Allies in combat, Americans pilots were volunteering to fight, and die, in the service of democracy.

During the Polish-Soviet War, they were known as the Kościuszko Squadron, a unit of American volunteers who fought on behalf of the Republican government of Poland against the invading armies of Soviet Russia.

During the Spanish Civil War, they were the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Entire battalions of Americans volunteered to fight on behalf of the Republican forces against those loyal the fascist dictator General Francisco Franco.

During World War II, they took on many forms and names. At the outset of hostilities many Americans simply travelled north across the Canadian border and joined their military as Canada had not yet full become independent of the British crown. The Eagle Squadron was a unit of American pilots who volunteered to fight in the British Royal Air Force; during the Battle of Britain they suffered substantial casualties but inflicted many on the Germans in return. The Flying Tigers were a unit of American fighter pilots who flew combat missions against the Japanese on behalf of the nationalist Chinese forces. Into the Dust and Fire by author Rachel Cox tells the story of the first five Americans who fought the Axis on the ground a full five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor; a group of Ivy Leaguers who served in the British Army’s 7th Armoured Division against Rommel’s Afrikakorps.

The ISIS rampage across north-western Iraq has been personally demoralizing for many American military veterans who served multiple tours over the US’ 8-year ground war in that country. Hard won victories in cities that had to be fought for time and again against a resilient insurgency are now in the hands of a hardcore Sunni death cult so extreme Al-Qaeda wants nothing to do with them. The Iraqi Army, trained, armed, and financed by American troops, crumbled in a display of galling cowardice, often fleeing when they outnumbered the attackers 20 to 1.

As American and Coalition Forces continue a sustained campaign of a air attacks on ISIS ground units, Kurdish and Iraqi units are still suffering setbacks. Numerous bases around Baghdad have been recently overrun and Kobani, a small city on the Turkish-Syrian Border is being attacked from three sides while the YPG units defending it are gradually losing control. No amount of bombing is going to defeat ISIS, it’s going to take a concerted ground war to crush the Islamic State. The aforementioned American volunteers have already taken the first step in a long tradition; essentially taking part in individually what the entire country will do eventually.

To quote Winston Churchill, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing-after they’ve done everything else.”

Take A Moment to Appreciate A Rarely Mentioned Aspect of American Exceptionalism

Every summer, the Orange Order of Northern Ireland holds parades to commemorate the victory of a Protestant king over a Catholic king during the Battle of Boyne. Up until recently, the Order made a point of marching through predominantly catholic districts in parts of Belfast and other cities with the overt intention of spiting local residents. The demonstrations represent, among other things, a display of British nationalism, pro-Unionism, and by proxy a statement of protestant supremacy over that of traditional Irish catholicism. Violence often erupts between those supportive of the Order and those against it i.e. protestants vs. catholics. It is essentially an annual reopening of old wounds, a never ending cycle of triumphalism and anger, of division and hatred. It’s roots date back centuries to the British occupation of Ireland, the Irish War for Independence, and most recently the “Troubles” which involved British military units occupying parts of Northern Ireland in the face of IRA terrorism/revolutionaries (depending upon who you ask).

The aforementioned Battle of Boyne, by the way, was fought in 1690 AD.

In northwestern Iraq and all over Syria, the Sunni militant army of ISIS is waging an atrocity-ridden campaign of conquest against the Iraqi and Syrian governments as well as other more moderate rebel groups to establish a caliphate. Inspired by a strict interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence known as “Wahhabism.” Founded by Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab in the early-18th century, it is an ultra-orthodox interpretation of the sharia law, influenced by perception of Ottoman opulence and a demand to return Islam to puritanical roots by acts of widespread and gruesome violence. The long standing sectarian rift in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites that began with a disagreement between the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad regarding the succession of proper leadership established most pointedly after the Battle of Karbala is an ongoing source of contention and has been for centuries.

The Battle of Karbala, FYI, was fought in 680 AD.

Japan and China, decades after the end of World War II, still routinely bring up specific incidents in that conflict as justification for their respective actions during contemporary political disagreements. Many Russians still hate Germans and visa versa. Israelis and Palestinians engage in “brushfire” wars every two to three years over territory, both sides increasingly ratcheting up the rhetoric of hatred and xenophobia against the other perhaps indicating the growing levels of indiscriminate killing.

These are only a few examples from around the world of how conflicts over political disagreements, competing ideologies, and general differences in culture can be allowed to exist for centuries, in some cases literally millennia, among disparate groups by the simple act of choice. By both sides willfully and consciously making the decision to retain hatred and anger borne of events generations before their own.

With these historical instances of conflict infinitum in mind, I now ask that you try to imagine what America would be like if we commemorated our histories great moments of division like so many others around the world.

Imagine if on the Fourth of July we burned British flags and made the focus of the holiday one giant victory party about defeating England, rather than the custom of it being a celebration focused more pointedly on the birth of our nation.

Imagine if the ancestors of Union soldiers gathering outside Atlanta for a parade commemorating the capture and subsequent burning of that city by federal troops during Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in the summer of 1864.

Imagine protestants christians gathering in various locations around downtown Louisville to celebrate the anniversary of Bloody Monday when on August 6th, 1855, German and Irish catholics were massacred in the streets by the “Know-Nothings”

Imagine the American government routinely assembling several companies of soldiers and marines to wage indiscriminate warfare against the people living on Native American reservations if ever a tribesman was accused of a crime whereby a non-Indian was the victim; the subsequent conflict killing thousands after which whites would then annex tribal land to build their own subdivisions.

American Exceptionalism is a politically contentious topic both in and outside the US, but I’m of the opinion that we as a people differentiate ourselves from others by this understated aspect:

We forgive because we realize we must coexist.

While there are probably various instances of the US’s inability to separate the present from the past (the continued embargo of Cuba comes to mind) as a whole, our collective history is rife with examples of reconciliation being a central tenet of the American character.

Take for example the American Civil War. Between 1861 and 1865, over 600,000 people were killed, many more injured, and entire regions, cities, farms, towns included, scorched to ash. It literally split families apart and came very close to ending the United States as we know it. When General Robert E. Lee signed an unconditional surrender to General Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, the terms offered by the Union went beyond anything the Confederates could have hoped for in terms of generosity; done so in attempt to heal. Surrendering southerners were even given full military honors by the Union soldiers in attendance as they surrendered their weapons.

It wasn’t very long after the end of the war that veterans from both sides began having reunions. Men who literally a decade before were trying their hardest to murder one another and impose their will upon the families and communities of their enemies…met amicably, peacefully, and became countrymen again.

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Here, veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg, north and south, meet face to face from the opposite sides of the battlefield on which they tried to murder one another and shake hands.

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Native Americans from the Lakota tribe perform a ritual to honor the naming of a new helicopter, the Lakota, in the arsenal of the United States Army, the same organization that once massacred the ancestor of these people by the hundreds.

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While pointing out the many inconsistencies in the day-to-day existence of the United States with it’s stated founding principals and ideals is easy, especially the current political climate of vitriol and spite, it’s important to remember the numerous instances whereby we, as a country, have exceeded the human condition in ways that plague other nations around the world. We have problems, all countries do, but we progress, eventually.

On a daily basis, we honor our legacy.

E. plurbius unum. Something exceptionally American.

Made-Up Strategy Vs. Non-Existent Strategy

May 1, 2003 was intended to be a day of celebration, of victory. The Coalition had done it; Saddam Hussein’s government was toppled, the Iraqi military was shocked and awed into a crushing defeat, major combat operations were suspended, the war was over, the United States had won. 

Mission Accomplished.

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What was supposed to be history’s most vainglorious spiking-the-ball-in-the-end-zone moment ever would soon become a glaring testament to hubris. The real Iraq War, the one many military strategists had widely dreaded as probable and neo-cons routinely dismissed as impossible, began soon after that fated speech. Over the fall and winter of 2003, a calamitous series of arguably avoidable missteps and mistakes worked collectively to conceive what would become a protracted counter-insurgency campaign waged amidst a gruesome sectarian civil war. 4,486 Americans died in the Iraq War, 32,223 were wounded, and the projected cost to the American taxpayer is approximately $6 trillion dollars.  

Not to mention a grand total of zero weapons of mass destruction found (ya’ know, the entire justification for the war) and something like an estimated 300,000 Iraqis killed. 

And yet, after all that blood and sacrifice, we’re back. Kinda’. 

In response to the ISIS blitzkrieg that has swept across Iraq and Syria, American military aircraft have been pounding targets for the last several weeks in an attempt to halt the advance of an islamist organization so brutal in their tactics even Al-Qaeda has even denounced them. The Iraqi Army, trained for years by American advisors and using American Humvees, tanks, MRAPs, helicopters, and weapons, was routed in a defeat as stunning as it was pathetic, resulting in substantial casualties and the capture of a variety of key cities. Only the Kurdish military, America’s on again off again allies, have been able to make a suitable stand, finally receiving weapons directly from NATO as opposed to the once American-preferred method of being routed through Baghdad in an attempt to stymie the sectarian practices of the Maliki government. 

I’m getting off track by delving into the specifices, which leads me directly to my point. 

Last Thursday, August 28th, President Obama was asked to describe what the American strategy in Iraq and Syria was regarding the defeat of ISIS, to which he responded, “…We don’t have a strategy yet…” 

Conservatives’ eyes collectively rolled back in exaltation at such a delectable soundbite gaffe while a handful of hawkish democrats joined in on the ensuing pile on, criticizing the Obama administration for lack of action or clarity regarding America’s foreign policy. 

Now, on the surface, I get the angry response to such a blatant statement of “oh i dunno” when it comes to what exactly is the game plan for dealing with a terrorist organization vehemently despised by such a broad array of entities. However, attacking ISIS in Iraq, let alone Syria, is not as simple as merely picking out targets and blowing them up. 

In fact, it’s actually an extremely complex if you take into account the web of alliances and hostilities that exist between a multitude of nation states, religious groups, sectarian militias, freedom fighters, and various other vested interests.

Here, let this is simple little chart I made help you understand:

It's all so simple

 You’ll have to excuse my use of the brief version. I didn’t even include the European Union, various other Middle Eastern and/or Islamic countries, facets of NATO, or the United Nations. Regardless, as it states, entities linked with a light pink line are allies of some sort; militarily, economically, religiously, by sect, etc. The black lines indicate open hostilities along the aforementioned lines. Some entities, you may notice, are connected by both a black and pink line, indicating the fractious nature of one or both entities regarding politics, religious make-up, etc.

For example, Lebanon is a country of vastly divergent religious groups, with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization in the south that has provided fighters to back the Assad regime in Syria against the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra which are now both briefly allied against ISIS regardless of Al-Nusra and Hezbollah both hating Israel while Al-Nusra hates Iran.

Then there is also a significant Christian population in Lebanon with completely different motivations.

Wahabi motivated backers in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are helping to finance Sunni Islamist groups against the wishes of their government while all are still doing business with the United States which is backing the FSA against the very groups those aforementioned Saudis are financing.

Long story short: it’s a house of cards upon which the collapse could possibly trigger a massive regional war producing any number of unforeseen consequences. Knowing that something needs to be done and rushing into it without a comprehensive understanding rather than waiting till your sure you know what you’re doing is the lesson many people don’t seem to want to learn from the Iraq War. 

Should Obama have chose better words and not been so honest regarding America’s lack of strategy for the ISIS question? For the sake political posturing, sure. 

However, is the president correct in taking his time to make the right decision so as not get America drawn into another bloody conflict whereby thousands could die for goals that only seem to predicate more problems? 

After 4,486 American flag draped coffins, you bet. 

 

 

Butchertown: Stories and Ruins

Anyone that spends a significant amount of time in Butchertown has probably noticed it’s a neighborhood typified by a sort of architectural schizophrenia. Amongst the rows of gorgeous 19th century homes flanking Washington and Franklin Streets are seemingly random punctuations of corugated sheet metal warehouses and sprawling lots of rusting industrial machinery. Before I moved here a little over a year ago, I’d never given this juxtaposition much thought until one night on the back deck of the now-defunct Meat Cocktail Lounge, my friend Jared Schubert gave me a brief history lesson on the neighborhood.

Present and past collide: industrial structures built on razed ground next to 19th century homes

Present and past collide: industrial structures (L) built on razed ground next to 19th century homes (R)

The Great Flood of 1937 decimated the area, prompting the construction of the flood wall that runs along Louisville’s waterfront and the rezoning of Butchertown from residential to industrial. Vast swaths of buildings were demolished, as in square miles of homes and businesses. Further research on my part revealed the construction of the nation’s interstate system, particularly I-64, resulted in the additional razing of significant stretches of the area. In fact, according to the area’s wiki article, if not for activism by area resident’s in the 1960s, the entirety of Butchertown was slated to be demolished to make way for the same industrial blight that areas like NULU have only recently emerged from in the past decade.

I’ve lived in Butchertown for little over a year now, and a general knowledge of the area’s history combined with my obnoxiously insatiable curiosity has prompted me to delve even further into the collective past of my ‘hood. On every street, on every block, there are cairns; small obelisks of weathered pavement and spines of rusted steel anonymous to passersby amongst the streets and sidewalks that serve as guides to the past. They tell the truly remarkable story of Louisville’s history through the cryptic language of brick and mortar anachronisms.

Using the University of Louisville’s vast online archives of pre-war photographs and my own handy-dandy iPhone, I walked around the area taking some photos to give you an idea of what was and now is Butchertown.

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Butchertown as it stands today. A shadow of it’s former self, Franklin Street and Washington are essentially the binary foundations for what remains of a once thriving urban district. Take note of the the broad expanses of seemingly empty area just south of the various spans of interstate. Additionally, I circled the Big Four Walking Bridge to give you an idea of what and where everything is.

 

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This is a view of Butchertown long before the Great Flood, even before the Big Four Bridge was built. No massive superhighways. No Waterfront Park. No vast empty spaces of land. In it’s heyday, it was a heavily populated urban area, teeming not only with homes but factories, businesses, restaurants and bars.

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This archival photo of several anonymous workers on the roof of a business in Butchertown reveals the nature of Louisville’s waterfront long before it hosted concerts on the Great Lawn. Congested with freight trains, smokes stacks, and warehouses, anyone traveling from the north would have been welcomed to the Derby City by a mud-slaked industrial shit-scape reeking of diesel smoke and manure. The Gateway to the South, in deed.

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This map is a little more recent, showing Butchertown after the construction of the Big Four bridge. I photoshopped redlines over the original path of the elevated train bridge that once allowed trains to cross back and forth between Kentucky and Indiana. One track went south toward the Bourbon Stock Yards while the other went southeast toward Downtown Louisville. Each bridge gradually descended from the height of the Big Four down to ground level.

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On the left is the Big Four as it currently stands. On the right, the bridge after the floodwaters receded toward the end of January, 1937. Note the rail bridge.

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Campbell Street used to run all the way to the river and was packed with homes and businesses. On the right, you can see residents peering warily at the rising flood water. Note a section of the elevated railroad bridge in the background. On the left is Campbell today. The flood prompted the government to rezone a lot of the destroyed areas for industrial use.

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On the left we have a factory and homes on Buchanan Street. On the right, what remains today, an empty lot with only yhe foundation and some of the original structures remaining. Cracked remnants of sidewalk and fire hydrants dot this bleak landscape. Telephone poles visible in the photograph on the left and scattered about presently.

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I came across a large book of maps from 1940 used by the city for taxation purposes and it revealed some interesting clues about how the street originally looked. The red arrow at left shows rows of property lines for homes that once lined Geiger Street. But now…


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Geiger Street as it is today. Sets of steps leading to the front doors of non-existent homes. A nearby business bought the land and turned it into a parking lot for employees.

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If you refer back to the map just a few images above, the red diagonal line to the right marks the original path of the elevated train bridge that descended from the Big Four toward the Bourbon Stock Yards. While the bridge is gone, all along the path are remnants of the support structures necessitated to handle thousands of tons of rolling steel. Large concrete blocks over 20 feet tall and I-beams still planted into the ground.

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Washington Street. Steps that once led to people’s homes are all that remains after rezoning allowed for the wide-scale demolition of structures for the sake of industrial business use.

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Washington and Johnson Street. Note the fence cutting across Johnson Street with several warehouses beyond. Businesses were allowed to annex not just residential property but city streets as well.

 

These are only a few instances from a plethora of interesting sights around Butchertown. If you want to see some of these historical sights and more for yourself, I recommend driving to the corn of Campbell and Washington Street and parking. You’ll see Freddy’s grocery store where you can get yourself a pulled-pork sandwich and a soda to take with you as you simply walk up and down Washington and Franklin. Many of the homes and businesses date back to the Civil War if not earlier. There are stories everywhere, the entirety of people’s lives ubiquitous among the ruins and relics of the neighborhood. You just have to know how to read them.