Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, August 22, 2014 7:07 pm

What’s in my name

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , ,

I’m not seriously how to take this blurb from Ancestry.com — not being content to have taken a good deal of my late father’s money, they’re now after mine — but it’s amusing, so I’ll throw it out there for whatever it might be worth:

Alexander Name Meaning

Scottish, English, German, Dutch; also found in many other cultures: from the personal name Alexander, classical Greek Alexandros, which probably originally meant ‘repulser of men (i.e. of the enemy)’, from alexein ‘to repel’ + andros, genitive of aner ‘man’. Its popularity in the Middle Ages was due mainly to the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great (356–323 bc)—or rather to the hero of the mythical versions of his exploits that gained currency in the so-called Alexander Romances. The name was also borne by various early Christian saints, including a patriarch of Alexandria (adc.250–326), whose main achievement was condemning the Arian heresy. The Gaelic form of the personal name is Alasdair, which has given rise to a number of Scottish and Irish patronymic surnames, for example McAllister. Alexander is a common forename in Scotland, often representing an Anglicized form of the Gaelic name. In North America the form Alexander has absorbed many cases of cognate names from other languages, for example Spanish Alejandro, Italian Alessandro, Greek Alexandropoulos, Russian Aleksandr, etc. (For forms, see Hanks and Hodges 1988.) It has also been adopted as a Jewish name.

As long as I don’t repulse my family, friends, co-workers, and any potential future employers, I guess the rest of you can just suck it up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 10:05 pm

Lookie here! Some honest-to-goodness voter fraud!

Why, it’s 200 votes’ worth! See! All those restrictions on voting that all the GOP legislatures have enacted are there for a reason! We’re trying to prevent the wrong people from voting outrages like this!

In … um … Texas.

By … um … a Republican.

Oh, snap.

And these are the fiscal grownups

So Rep. Steve Stockman wrote House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s PAC a check last November for $5,000.

It bounced.

Someone ‘splain to me again how the Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility?

Greensboro Urban Ministry needs your help. Now.

The ministry’s plea, [fixed] from its news release (via Yes! Weekly):
 
This summer, we held a food drive call “Feeding the 5,000” in partnership with the City of Greensboro, First Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, Friendly Avenue Baptist, Grace UMC, New Garden Friends Meeting, Starmount Presbyterian, VF Corporation, West Market Street UMC, Adams Farm Community Church, Christ UMC, Faith Wesleyan Church, St. Andrews Methodist, and St. Pius X Catholic Church.  Through this drive, cash and non-perishable food items totaling more than 15,000 lbs were collected.  However, this food provided for only two weeks of food assistance.
 
Our pantry now looks much like that of our clients – it is bare. And, there is little hope in sight until the end of September when the annual Leadership Greensboro Senior’s Food Drive restocks our shelves. Until that time, we will be purchasing food to meet the needs of our clients. In their first annual meeting last night, the Greensboro Urban Ministry Board of Directors pledged enough funds to purchase nearly two weeks worth of food, yet we have six weeks to cover.  That is why we are asking you, our supporters, to help us fill this gap and meet the needs of our clients. Your monetary gift, or donation of non-perishable food items, will go directly to those individuals in our community who would otherwise go to bed hungry tonight. Won’t you please support our efforts and give?
 
As reported last week, hunger is growing faster in this metro than in all but nine other metros nationwide. And no long-term solution is on the horizon at the federal, state or local level. So dig deep. And, please, do it today.

When good journalists meet bad cops, sometimes the journalists get arrested.

That’s what happened to Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept and a colleague from a German outlet Monday night in Ferguson, Mo.:

Late Monday evening, after many of the major media outlets covering the protests in Ferguson, Mo., had left the streets to broadcast from their set-ups near the police command center, heavily armed officers raced through suburban streets in armored vehicles, chasing demonstrators, launching tear gas on otherwise quiet residential lanes, and shooting at journalists.

Their efforts resulted in one of the largest nightly arrest totals since protests began 10 days ago over the killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. At approximately 2 a.m. local time, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson announced at a press conference that 31 people had been arrested over the course of the night (NBC News later reported that, according to jail records, the actual total was more than double that). I was unable to attend or report on Johnson’s press conference because I was one of those people.

Here’s what happened.

Devereaux goes on to describe a police force run amok, attempting not to provide justice but to impose order by means of will and weaponry. They fired tear-gas canisters at demonstrators or at random in neighborhoods; they shot journalists who were obeying police orders with rubber bullets.

I say again: I never signed any social contract that permits this kind of police behavior, and Jefferson, Madison, et al. sure as hell didn’t, either.

“The police are the good guys and he is a good kid, so no worries. I guess I was naive.”

To the extent I’ve gotten any respone to my postings here and on Facebook about Ferguson, it has mostly been private (which is fine), and a common theme has emerged: I need to listen to the cops’ side because I know nothing about being a cop.

And as I’ve pointed out, although I don’t, in fact, know what it’s like to be a cop, I have an idea, based on having spent several years of my career around them, often in cases in which the threat of deadly force was justified and at least once when deadly force had to be used.

But, yes, we should listen to the cops. I listened to one last night. Now here’s another one.

It’s only been a few years but seems like a lifetime ago.  I would come in to work and feel like I could make a difference in this world.  Back then when I lined up for roll call, I would look around me and see a squad room full of diverse personalities and experiences that I knew made us all more effective.  I trusted these men and women because I believed in the good we could do and the bond of brotherhood we shared.  But a little over a year ago something happened that forced me to take a hard look at the realities of the system that I had been a part of.  When I did I learned a lot about myself and finally had to accept some hard facts.

I learned that justice is not blind and there is a very thin blue line that unifies cops. I learned that Americans are not just divided by red and blue, when it comes to the law we are divided by black and white.  I accepted that sometimes we have a justice system with two sets of rules.  I had to accept that no matter how well I raise my son he will grow up in a world where I still have to be afraid for him.  Not just from criminals, but from my brothers and sisters in blue. For most of his young life all my son has ever seen is me in a uniform with a gun and a badge.  He doesn’t know to fear the police because  I have always told him he didn’t have to.  The police are the good guys and he is a good kid, so no worries.  I guess I was naive. I never thought that I would have to explain to him that despite my years in law enforcement, I’m still a second class citizen in the eyes of the law.

For his sake I have to tell him no matter how professional he looks, no matter how well he carries himself, no matter how much education he obtains, as a black male he has to meet a higher standard of submission to authority or his life is at risk. Even if he chooses to raise his right hand and swear to protect and serve this country with his life it doesn’t  change that fact.  It hurts to know that I’m going to have to give my son that talk. I tell myself that things are still like this because of ignorance and fear.  I blame it on politicians who turn fear in to resentment and the wealthy elites who exploit those resentments to satisfy their own agenda.  The hopeful part of me thinks that our differences are not really as bad as they seem.  My head tells me that time will change things. Time.  But my heart tells me that right now I just need to protect my son.

This is one of the saddest damn things I’ve read in years — years that have not lacked in sadness.

But Sean Hannity will open his big thug mouth to argue, and a good 30% of the country doesn’t give a damn about this guy’s problems anyway. And it’s not About Race, because as Charlie Pierce has pointed out, in this country, Nothing Is Ever About Race.

I know that diversity makes an organization more efficient and more credible. The fact that the Ferguson Police Department cannot recruit or retain more than 3 black officers in a city that is almost 3/4 black speaks volumes.  It takes a lot of effort to maintain that kind of imbalance.

Oh, sure, it might be coincidence. But, like Jethro Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidences.

And yet that young man, Michael Brown, he stole some cigars from a store, didn’t he?

As a cop I learned that it’s usually best to wait until you know as much information as possible before you go on the record so I’ll be completely honest;

I don’t know why an unarmed 18 year old was shot multiple times.
I don’t know what that police officer felt in the seconds before he pulled the trigger.
I don’t know why the Ferguson Police chose to withhold details about this shooting.
I don’t know why this police chief decided to have SWAT teams on foot patrols.
I don’t know why this police chief deployed Armored Vehicles and Snipers to this area.
I don’t know why police officers were locking up reporters.
I don’t know how a community that is 67% black has a police department that is 96% white.

But here are a few things that I do know. … I know that a robbery in any jurisdiction is a felony.  That means when that call comes in to 911 it should be dispatched as a high priority call. That dispatcher should alert everybody that the crime has just happened and give a BOLO with a detailed description of the suspect, and what direction they were last seen headed. If an officer sees a person fitting the description of the suspect that officer should advise dispatch what they have, THEN make a FELONY stop.  If that is what happened the day that Brown was killed then there should be a dispatch recording of the robbery call and of the officer stopping Brown.

Now I know this having never set foot in Ferguson Missouri. Whatever their intent was, the way that the Ferguson Police department has handled this situation has seemed incompetent, petty, and disrespectful to the community that they are supposed to serve.  I don’t even live there and I feel insulted. You can’t just drop into black churches during the day and then drop the hammer on black people at night.  It’s ridiculous to believe you can withhold details about an officer involved shooting victim then release a video of that person committing a crime and believe nobody will figure out what you are doing.  Even from an investigative standpoint the decision to release that video served no logical purpose.  If it was Brown, the robbery case was solved the minute they positively ID’d him. You don’t prosecute a crime when the suspect is deceased, you just close the case. Other than just sheer vindictiveness I can’t see the legal purpose in releasing that video.  So either this chief has no clue, no control of his command staff or he doesn’t care.

But he was 6 feet 4 and resisted arrest! At least, that’s what I heard!

 If I saw two guys walking in the road when there was a perfectly good sidewalk, I would probably have told them to get out of the street.  If they were knuckleheads they might tell me to [expletive] off.  Now I could choose to either ignore it or I could engage them.  At this point I’ve got enough probable cause to charge them with pedestrian in the roadway but that’s pretty much it.  If I decided I wanted to make that charge I could give them each a ticket and a court date or I could put handcuffs on them and take them to jail.  Either way I would have had to physically get out of my patrol car and make contact with them.  Once an officer decides to make contact in a situation like that things can go from OK to very bad in seconds.  Right now we don’t know what happened once that officer got out of his patrol car.  We don’t know what Brown did or what the officer thought he was about to do, but going from a pedestrian traffic charge to lethal force is a very steep climb.  Once that officer’s gun comes out it’s hard to climb back down from that. Officer Wilson has to be able to articulate how he got to that level of force with an unarmed person. If not he’s in trouble. There is no way around it.

It doesn’t matter if your subject looks like the Hulk, is talking [expletive] and refusing verbal commands, that’s not enough for deadly force.  Even if you are trying to put the hand cuffs on him, he jerks back and pushes you off to get away, that’s not enough.  It doesn’t matter how angry the guy makes you. It doesn’t matter if he embarrassed you. It doesn’t matter if he told you what he was going to do to your wife and kids. All that matters is at that moment: was the suspect armed? Did he have the ability to seriously hurt you? Did he pose an imminent threat to use that ability? Were you convinced that you were in immediate mortal danger?

Just resisting the police does not meet the standard for deadly force.

Even when a suspect has gone from simply resisting you to actively fighting you, once he complies with your commands and can be taken into custody he should be taken into custody. Once the threat has stopped, then your need to use force stops too.   Even if you respond to a call and a suspect has just shot and killed dozens of people in a movie theater, once he throws down his weapons and puts up his hands, and you can safely take him into custody, then you take him into custody.  You don’t execute him because he’s a mass murderer.

But … but … but … RIOTS!

I know what it’s like to walk around in a Kevlar helmet, gas mask, shield, and baton dressed in riot control gear. It’s hot, it’s frustrating, and most of the time you are just standing around waiting.  I know that Protests and Riots are not the same thing and just because someone is protesting the police does not make them a “thug“.  I know that the criminals that are using this situation to loot and cause havoc should be arrested and prosecuted period.  I know that whether you are a rapper, a teacher, a nun, or a congressman you should have the same rights. I know that if your police department continues to let the community’s questions go unanswered for days while you post armored vehicles and snipers in their neighborhoods you might not get a very positive outcome.  I know that if your unofficial departmental policy is to ignore the underlying problems in a community and never address their actual issues don’t be surprised if protests become riots.

Yeah, but those people didn’t get treated any differently from how anyone else would have been treated!

Just contrast what has happened in Ferguson Missouri to what happened last spring in Bunkerville Nevada. In Ferguson we had the police reaction to protesters.  In Bunkerville we had the protesters reaction to police. Two different groups of citizens with ostensibly the same 1st amendment issues but two drastically different reactions by the citizens and law enforcement.  Based on what I saw of the operation on TV it looked like a tactical nightmare.  I lost count of the problems that the agents faced when they went in to enforce a court order there.  Mostly I believe they gave this guy Bundy too many chances for too long.  When the BLM cops finally decided to go in there they weren’t committed to whatever the plan was. That indicates a major leadership issue.

I was completely stunned to see those officers surrounded by screaming people with assault rifles, a police dog getting kicked, and open defiance of verbal commands.  But when I saw that those officers had sniper rifles pointed at them I could not believe my eyes.  Snipers. On live TV.  Let me repeat that:

On the Bundy Ranch, armed protesters were violently obstructing law enforcement from performing their duties.  Sniper rifles were pointed at those law enforcement officers. Then those “snipers” openly gloated about how they had the agents in their sights the entire time. And what was the police response?  All out retreat.  Nobody was arrested. No tear gas deployed. No tanks were called in. No Snipers posted in the neighborhood. No rubber bullets fired. Nothing. Police officers in mortal danger met with heavily armed resistance and no one had to answer for it. Could any reasonable person look at scenes coming out of Nevada and say they looked peaceful?

Nobody called the armed protesters at the Bundy Ranch who threatened police thugs.

Nobody told them the government was supreme so they should just let the system work it out.

Nobody told them to just shut up and do what they were told. …

The press didn’t call what those people did to those officers in Nevada a riot. But I haven’t seen any protesters in Ferguson hanging the American flag upside down, or renouncing their citizenship. I haven’t heard of any protest leaders on the street in Ferguson Missouri calling for the overthrow of the city council or the removal of the mayor by force. What about those “2nd amendment remedies” that politicians were hinting at 5 years ago? Just imagine if there were 150 black folks walking around Ferguson with assault rifles right now. Imagine if a couple of them took up sniper positions on the tops of buildings with their rifles pointed at the police officers.  Take a quick guess at how that story ends.

Oh. Um. Well.

So, there, I listened to another cop. And so, by way of reading this piece, did you.

Pop quiz: Did you hear him?

Sweat it to get it

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 7:56 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’m not a fan of commercials in general, but as a Panther fan, this Gatorade ad featuring Cam Newton had me chuckling.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 9:18 pm

Time to yank a knot in the thin blue line

It’s time to get law enforcement in this country back under meaningful civilian control.

You think it already is? Then just read this remarkable piece by a Los Angeles police officer, published in The Washington Post:

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

That’s just one small section from a long piece that makes clear that the writer believes it’s his world, a world that belongs to his fellow cops, and that the rest of us just live in it.

Now, I’ll grant him right up front that he does offer one piece of advice that anyone, irrespective of circumstances, should take to heart unless you’re badly hurt and/or desperately need help: “Don’t even think of aggressively walking toward me.” And even if you are badly hurt and/or need help, if you’re going to walk toward a cop at all, shouting, “Help! Police!” until the cop responds to you would be a very good idea.

With that out of the way, let’s unpack the rest of his imperative.

He starts by stating that failing to “do what I tell you” could get you shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground.

He does not allow for the fact that he might be issuing these orders while lacking relevant information, perhaps even information pertaining to his own safety. He does not allow for the possibility that his orders might be given on shaky, if not nonexistent, constitutional grounds. “Don’t argue with me,” he says. Unconditionally.

But, you say, cops never, or almost never, give orders they don’t have the right to give.

Horseshit, say I. In 25 years of daily journalism, I lost count of the number of times I was ordered off public streets, sidewalks, or other property by local, state and federal authorities. I don’t mean ordered back behind police lines or barricades. I mean ordered off property on which I had a perfectly good legal and constitutional right to be.

The example that sticks out most in my mind was during televangelist Jim Bakker’s fraud trial, 25 years ago this summer. Early in the trial, Bakker had what later was revealed to be an anxiety attack. Court was recessed and Bakker and his lawyer went to his lawyer’s office. But the judge had other ideas and ordered Bakker taken into custody and taken to the federal mental hospital in Butner for observation. So the assistant U.S. marshals went to the lawyer’s office, which was in a restored old house. Naturally, reporters and producers jammed the sidewalk — but it was a public sidewalk and the agents had all the access they needed.

Nonetheless, they and local officers started ordering reporters off the sidewalks. But I had an ace in the hole: Next door to the lawyer’s office was my father’s office condo. So I stepped across the property line — and was promptly told to leave. Dad, who had noticed all the commotion, came out of his office to see what was going on and, visibly irritated, told the officer I had every right to be where I was. The officer looked him up and down and, apparently deciding that a dispute with a 59-year-old white man in a $500 suit was not one he was likely to win, walked away, looking back over his shoulder at me as he did so. (Dad then sighed and said, “When are you going to get a real job?” before walking back into his office.)

“Don’t call me names.” Really? Really? Officer, did your mama never teach you that sticks and stones might break your bones but names will never hurt you? Especially when you’re behaving badly on the public dime?

“Don’t tell me that I can’t stop you.” Sorry, but if I’m where I’m allowed to be and am breaking no laws, particularly if I’m functioning as a journalist (and you DO NOT have to be working for a mainstream news outlet to be doing so; freedom of the press belongs to the people), if you want to stop me, you’re going to have to arrest me. And the odds are very good that I’m going to have some kind of recording device, perhaps more than one, going as that happens.

“Don’t say I’m a racist pig.” Fair enough; don’t act like one. Over the years, I heard more than a few white cops say racist trash, knowing that I could hear it and knowing that I was a newspaper reporter. And if there were more than a few who felt comfortable enough to talk like that with a reporter around, I wonder how many more were saying stuff like that when I wasn’t.

“Don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge.” Read another way: Don’t threaten to hold me legally accountable for my actions, even though that’s your perfect constitutional right.

“Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary.” Deal, as long as you’re not screaming at me when I tell you. Because it’s relevant. It matters. You are a public servant, not King of the Goddamn Streets.

I am not a law enforcement expert by any means. On the other hand, having spent a lot of time with cops over the years as a reporter, having seen some of what they see and smelled some of what they smell, having even witnessed a perfectly justifiable use of deadly force by sheriff’s deputies to prevent an armed man from harming others, I do know a little more than the average civilian. I get that it’s a tough, dirty and potentially dangerous job even on a good day. I get that cops are underpaid. I get the politics. I get the trickiness of the public relations and the even more important community relations. And I have a lot of respect for good cops.

Too much, in fact, to have any at all for bad ones. And there are some bad ones out there, including the writer of this Post article. The writer says no cop goes to work wanting or planning to shoot someone, which, the very rare very corrupt cop aside, is probably true. But he glides right over the fact that short of killing, a nontrivial number of officers wouldn’t mind very much if they got to get into a fight. You can deny it, but I’ve seen and heard it myself.

That attitude, that overweaning sense of entitlement, is problematic on a number of levels, but perhaps the most important one is that it’s simply un-American. It is exactly the kind of thing that the men who wrote the Bill of Rights were seeking to protect us from and that Supreme Court majorities in cases from Gideon and Miranda to U.S. v. Jones have said is impermissible.

And the Bill of Rights and those court rulings and more are incontrovertible evidence that the American people have never entered into a social contract that makes a cop on the street the absolute arbiter of anyone’s life and freedom of movement. More and more people, sick and tired of being sick and tired, are rising up and telling cops that in no uncertain terms. And they ain’t all black, either.

To be sure, the state of policing today is not all the cops’ fault. A lot of corporations made a lot of money selling military equipment to the government, and then when the government began donating surplus equipment to states and localities, were the cops going to say no? And after 9/11, a lazy but pervasive mental shorthand took hold: We’re in a war on terror, terror could strike anywhere, so we’ve got to be prepared to do battle. But in too many cases, the requisite training on how and when to use that military equipment didn’t accompany the goods. And thus we were faced last week with the sight of a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in an armored vehicle pointing a machine gun loaded with live ammunition at peaceful protesters.

Now, when I was no older than 5 and going dove hunting with Dad and some other relatives (I wasn’t actually hunting, but I did get to hold and carry a shotgun), he distinctly told me never to point a firearm at something unless you intended to shoot it. I bet your dad told you the same thing. So if you’re a resident of Ferguson, protesting peacefully or maybe not even doing that much, and a cop who supposedly has sworn to protect and serve you is pointing a machine gun at you, what are you supposed to think?

I’m thinkin’ there’s one cop who needs to lose his badge.

So you’ve got a nontrivial number of cops out there who think the Constitution doesn’t apply to them, that your civil rights don’t matter, and who have lots of very dangerous toys but no real idea when deploying those toys might do more harm than good. (The writer of the Post piece, with his emphasis on wanting to de-escalate situations, would be more believable if he acknowledged the reality that people in Ferguson, Mo., and many other places in America want a police force and not an occupying army.)

At no point in its history has the kind of policing the writer embraces above ever been part of the formal social contract. Oh, sure, it happened, but it did so in violation of the country’s own contract with itself. And it needs to stop. The police themselves will benefit from a population that doesn’t have so many examples of cops behaving badly to look at.

So how do we get there? We start requiring federal, state and local law enforcement to operate in a state of complete transparency with respect to how they do their jobs. We decide that no such person is entitled to any right of privacy with respect to his performance of his official duties. We make it all public, good and bad. We mandate independent investigation at the federal level of all officer-involved shootings.

Yeah, it’ll take a little time and money. Worse, it will require changing some attitudes that are generations old and baldly used for political purposes today.

But if we go that route, I can pretty much guarantee that law enforcement officers’ relationships with their communities will improve, and as a result their jobs will become at least a little bit safer and easier. And I think we can all agree that that would be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

Ferguson, Mo., Mayor James Knowles: Out of touch, out of time

In light of the assertion today by James Knowles, the white mayor of 67% African American Ferguson, Mo., that there aren’t any racial divides in his city and that the entire city, black and white alike, would agree with him, my fortuitous stumbling across this passage from Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August*, about the beginning of World War I a century ago, seems apropos:

[German] General von Hausen, commanding the Third Army… could not get over the “hostility of the Belgian people.” To discover “how we are hated” was a constant amazement to him. He complained bitterly of the attitude of the D’Eggremont family in whose luxurious château of forty rooms, with green-houses, gardens, and stable for fifty horses, he was billeted for one night. The elderly Count went around “with his fists clenched in his pockets”; the two sons absented themselves from the dinner table; the father came late to dinner and refused to talk or even respond to questions, and continued in this unpleasant attitude in spite of Hausen’s gracious forbearance in ordering his military police not to confiscate the Chinese and Japanese weapons collected by Count D’Eggremont during his diplomatic service in the Orient. It was a most distressing experience.

I love the snark in that last sentence.

Because here’s the thing, Mr. Mayor: Three independent witnesses have proclaimed that a white officer, Darren Wilson, shot a black man, Michael Brown, six times without provocation; many more witnesses know that Brown’s body was left in the street for hours. An autopsy report not only corroborates witness accounts, it also impeaches the police version of events.  Given that, the least you could have done was to have called for an immediate, outside, transparent investigation and seen to it that Wilson was suspended from duty without pay pending the outcome. Instead, you reflexively defended your cops without having had the slightest idea what actually went down (or else knowing and not caring), then denied today that the racial element of this incident even exists. That so many people have gotten so upset, and that your town’s behavior has drawn critical attention from around the globe now, seems “a constant amazement” to you.

And I’m sure it’s “a most distressing experience” for you that people aren’t holding still for your racist blinders, your utter lack of connection with your own community, and the apparent lies you and the police department are telling. But you know what? Some people need to be distressed, and right now you’re approaching the top of that list. The demographic tidal wave of your community is inexorable. But rather than showing leadership, you double down on a vision and a policing approach that are decades past their sell-by date and expect people to appreciate your gracious forbearance in not allowing the police, so far, to mow down with automatic weapons the civilians peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights of speech, press, assembly, and petitioning government for redress of grievances.

That’s mighty white of you, sir.

*h/t: J. Bradford DeLong

Monday, August 18, 2014 7:35 pm

Police with tanks and armored personnel carriers and machine guns: de rigeur?

[Things] started out calm enough with barricades on either side of the street and police patrolling down the main drag, but it was only a matter of time (approximately 15 minutes) … before someone shouted,”[Expletive] it, let’s do this!” and the barricades came down as a mob flooded the street.

Even once the crowds flooded the streets the celebrations were still friendly: High-fives were plentiful, beers were passed around, cigars were smoked …

But as the night dragged on, things started to get messy as bottles were shattered haphazardly on the street, empty beer cans were tossed in the air and hoards of people hoisted the barricades in the air for their friends to ride down the street in their own mini-parade.

Ferguson, Mo.? No, Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood after the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup. So, if anything, far bigger and more drunken crowds than in Ferguson, and yet cops managed to handle things using nothing more intimidating than horses and their own presence.

Now, why do you suppose the cops rolled out the artillery in Ferguson but not in Wrigleyville, where the potential for widespread mayhem was much worse? Call my cynical, but I’m thinking the answer is as simple as black and white.

(h/t: Athenae, who concludes, “Shockingly, there was no tear gas, or bellyaching in the conservative press about a culture of violence that leads these people to act like animals.”)

Saturday, August 16, 2014 11:24 pm

Reality check, Ferguson, MO, edition

David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” points out just a few elements of the bullshit that has been thrown our way since Michael Brown was gunned down in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Mo.:

The notion that police officers are entitled to anonymity after such an action [taking a human life -- Lex] is not merely anti-democratic; it is, in fact, totalitarian.  The idea that a police department, with all of its resources and sworn personnel, might claim to be unable to protect an officer from retribution, and therefore employ such anonymity to further protect the officer from his citizenry is even more astonishing.  And any police agency showing such institutional cowardice which might then argue its public should continue to come forward and cooperate with officers in police investigations and to trust in the outcome is engaged in little more than rank hypocrisy.  After all, if an armed and sworn officer — backed by all the sworn personnel of his agency, by the power of its prosecutorial allies, the law and the courts — is afraid, then why should any witness or party to any crime, unarmed and unallied as they are, be asked to come forward and participate publicly in the process?

Earlier tonight, I had an exchange on Facebook with someone claiming to be a police officer about the Ferguson case. I was polite until the point at which he suggested I do a ride-along sometime — as if I hadn’t done hundreds of hours worth in 25 years of journalism, as if I hadn’t, as he suggested, seen what they saw and smelled what they smelled.

He also argued, among other things, that the victim had been caught on videotape stealing cigars from a store (it has not been confirmed that the victim was in fact in the video), that the cop who shot him knew this (we now know the cop had no idea), that the victim was stopped for possessing the purportedly stolen cigars (again, way too many assumptions about facts that remain in question) and that the victim therefore probably thought he was going to be arrested for stealing some cigars (we have no idea what the victim thought) and thus behaved in a way that forced the officer to kill him (according to all available evidence thus far, utter horseshit).

So I called the guy out on all the assumptions he had made without any evidence. I said any “cop” who would handle a case as he was handling this one didn’t deserve the honor of wearing the badge bestowed by us taxpayers. And, because his writing suggesting that he was a lot younger than I am, I addressed him as “son.”

This gave him a case of the ass, apparently; according to Facebook, he deleted the thread. Whether he did or not, he certainly DM’ed me with a brief message: “Fuck you.”

Well, right back at you, “officer.” You made inaccurate assumptions about me, you behaved condescendingly and patronizingly, you spouted a bunch of crap about the Ferguson case that either was questionable or was flatly untrue, and then, when called on it, you accused those holding you accountable of being “rude.” Was I rude? I called you “son” because it’s statistically likely that if you’re still a working cop, you’re younger than I am, because your writing style suggested you are a LOT younger than I am, and because — I admit it — I knew it would piss you off. But you know what? As a sworn law enforcement officer, you’ve got to weigh some things sometimes, including damage to your ego vs. oh, I don’t know, BLOWING AWAY AN UNARMED MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREET FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.

And that’s before we even get into the race issue, which is deeply rooted in Ferguson, Mo.

I am not an expert at law enforcement, though I know a little more than the average civilian. But one thing I am kind of an expert on is how people respond to authority, particularly when it is abused. And that is what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri.

All you gun owners out there: What was the first rule your daddy taught you about guns? Don’t point your gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. So if I’m a resident of Ferguson, Mo., and the police department my tax dollars support rolls up to me in an armored vehicle when I’m not doing anything and levels a machine gun at me, you tell me what in the pluperfect hell I’m supposed to think. You tell me whom in the pluperfect hell I’m supposed to trust.

Go on. I’ll wait.

Forget the racial angle, though I have no doubt it’s relevant in Ferguson, where the victim and two-thirds of the population are black and the police department is overwhelmingly white. Forget the political angle, too: I’m a white, middle-aged, male Republican. But if the cops in my city shot an unarmed 18-year-old white man down in the middle of my street, refused to answer questions about it, and then rolled an APC into my ‘hood and pointed a machine gun at me when I tried to get answers, I’d be pissed, too. I’d be wanting answers, too. And I’d be expecting somebody to be held accountable, too.

Understand, please, that anyone who actually rioted, committed vandalism, looted, or what-have-you in Ferguson should be prosecuted and jailed. But understand also that not everyone who is in the streets of Ferguson tonight has done that — indeed, most of them have not and some of them have tried to stop those who have.

But the bottom line is just as Spider-Man said: With great power comes great responsibility. Cops have the power of life and death. They have the responsibility to operate legally, competently, and transparently, and to have their transgressions treated transparently. Police in Ferguson, Mo., have been behaving as if this reality does not apply to them, and they’re taking shit for that from people nationwide (as well they should). And telling anyone who reminds you of this fact, “Fuck you,” is not going to change the situation. Indeed, it might only make it worse.

Economist: You can’t vote for a sane conservative because there aren’t any; or, Caution: Contents may have disappeared during shipping..

Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong:

THERE ARE NO ATTRACTIVE MODERN CONSERVATIVES BECAUSE CONSERVATISM SIMPLY IS NOT ATTRACTIVE. DEAL WITH IT!! (Yelling in the original — Lex)

You can see this most clearly if you take a close look at Edmund Burke. Edmund Burke does not believe that Tradition is to be Respected. He believes that good traditions are to be respected. When Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France makes the argument that Britons should respect the organic political tradition of English liberty that has been inherited from the past, he whispers under his breath that the only reason we should respect the Wisdom of the Ancestors is that in this particular case Burke thinks that the Ancestors–not his personal ancestors, note–were wise.

Whenever Burke thought that the inherited political traditions were not wise, the fact that they were the inherited Wisdom of the Ancestors cut no ice with him at all. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that they would conquer, torture, and rob wogs whenever and wherever they were strong enough to do so. That tradition cut no ice with Edmund Burke when he was trying to prosecute Warren Hastings. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that all power flowed to Westminster. That tradition cut no ice with Burke when he was arguing for conciliation with and a devolution of power to the American colonists. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that Ireland was to be plundered and looted for the benefit of upwardly-mobile English peers-to-be. That tradition, too, cut no ice with Burke.

Even in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke doesn’t argue that Frenchmen should build on their own political traditions–the traditions of Richelieu and Louis XIV, that is. He argues–well, let’s roll the videotape:

Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: We [in Britain] procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on account of their age; and on account of those from whom they are descended…. You [in France] might, if you pleased, have profited of our example, and have given to your recovered freedom a correspondent dignity. Your privileges, though discontinued, were not lost to memory. Your constitution… suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, and in all the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. … In your old [E]states [General] you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed; you had all that combination, and all that opposition of interests, you had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe…. Through that diversity of members and interests, general liberty had as many securities as there were separate views…. [B]y pressing down the whole by the weight of a real monarchy, the separate parts would have been prevented from warping and starting from their allotted places.

You had all these advantages in your antient [E]states [General]…. If the last generations of your country appeared without much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a pious predilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized in them a standard of virtue and wisdom…. Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You would not have chosen to consider the French as… a nation of low-born servile wretches until the emancipating year of 1789…. [Y]ou would not have been content to be represented as a gang of Maroon slaves, suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage….

Would it not… have been wiser to have you thought… a generous and gallant nation, long misled… by… fidelity, honour, and loyalty… that you were not enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition… [but] by a principle of public spirit, and that it was your country you worshipped, in the person of your king? Had you made it to be understood… that you were resolved to resume your ancient [liberties,] privileges[, and immunities]… you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world. You would have rendered the cause of liberty venerable in the eyes of every worthy mind in every nation. You would have shamed despotism from the earth…

Burke’s argument is not that France in 1789 should have followed its ancestral traditions. Burke’s argument is, instead, that France in 1789 should have dug into its past until it found a moment when institutions were better than in 1788, and drawn upon that usable past in order to buttress the present revolutionary moment. This isn’t an intellectual argument about how to decide what institutions are good. It is a practical-political argument about how to create good institutions and then buttress and secure them by making them facts on the ground.

So Edmund Burke, among the most revered conservative thinkers in Western thought, would have no truck with stupidity, insanity, or even counterproductivity. Point me to a single conservative political leader in the United States today about whom we can say the same. Go on. I’ll wait.

By the way, DeLong reposted this on Friday. He originally posted it in 2008. Plus la change …

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 6:31 am
Tags:

… to my stepfather and a great American, Jerry Hancock!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 7:08 pm

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves matter. So does how we tell them.

America had been involved in World War II for almost two years before the government began releasing photos of American war dead to the public. Some of the first came from Tarawa atoll, where, in November 1943, a thousand Marines died in four days as their comrades killed almost 5,000 Japanese defenders. Those images were deeply disturbing to the American public — so much so that a documentary on the battle, With the Marines at Tarawa, wasn’t released until the following year, and then only after President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself signed off. (It’s a short documentary, 20 minutes, with no actors, covering the 4-day battle and its lead-up. You can watch the whole thing online at NPR’s website.)

By Vietnam, Americans had become accustomed to seeing bloody images of friend and foe, from wounded GIs being evacuated on tanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Vietnamese children burned by napalm and Vietcong being summarily executed.

But in 1991, a photographer named Kenneth Jarecke took a photograph of a dead Iraqi soldier who apparently had burned to death trying to escape his burning vehicle. The war, remember, was not an invasion of Iraq (although U.S. forces did cross the border), but an incursion intended to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, which they had occupied the previous summer. In point of fact, there was only one way out of Kuwait for the Iraqi military there — a road later nicknamed “the Highway of Death” — and by some estimates 100,000 Iraqi soldiers died trying run the gantlet of U.S. and allied artillery, armor and air power to get back home, a story captured some time afterward in an article in The New Republic titled “Highway to Hell.” (Doesn’t seem to be online.)

Just before the cease-fire that ended combat in Operation Desert Storm, Jarecke stood on the Highway of Death and took his photo. He thought it would be a proper counter to the prevailing narrative, fostered by images from radio-controlled bombs and night-vision goggles, of Desert Storm as a “video-game” war. But the Associated Press and Time and Life magazines refused to run the photo; the AP’s decision essentially no U.S. newspaper would ever even have the chance to decide for itself. Only London’s Observer newspaper published it.

Should the AP and Time and Life have run the photo? Of course. American citizens have a right — and, I would argue, a moral obligation and a civic duty — to know what is done in their names, with their tax dollars, by their sons and daughters. The journalists’ call was the wrong one. The managing editor of Life then said that because Life had a fairly significant number of children in its readership, a photo that was “the stuff of nightmares” was inappropriate.

At this point, I’ll let Athenae speak (mostly) for me:

A family magazine. Yet that “family” magazine had no problem humping the next Iraq war, as if that’s not offensive to anybody’s family. As if what’s suitable for a family is to wage war without ever knowing the costs.

But how am I going to explain it to my children, the gentle reader asks. Well, let me throw this back at you: If you think it’s hard to explain a photo of a dead guy to your kids, imagine that guy’s kids. Imagine the explanation they must have needed. And then quit feeling so [expletive] sorry for yourself because it’s so hard for you to make sense of the world.

Moreover? It is not the journalist’s job to protect people from [expletive] thinking. It is not the journalist’s job to shield you from the consequences of your political actions. It is not the journalist’s job to decide, in advance, how upset you’re going to get about anything around you, and manage that upset carefully so as to ensure the circulation department receives no anguished calls.

It is the journalist’s job, as it always has been, to tell a story. If the journalist is brave that story’s about something you might not want to know about, like the human toll taken by even the shortest or “easiest” of wars. If the journalist is cowardly, or lazy, or stupid, or jus’ don’ wanna today, that story’s about how we can fight a war without really giving a [expletive] about it.

Surprisingly, we end up telling that story over and over and over again.

Things have gotten better in some ways. I would be remiss if I did not point out such examples as Carol Rosenberg, the McClatchy reporter who has pursued the truth about Guantanamo and its inmates like Hell’s own hound dog. And I don’t know that such photos wouldn’t be published today, if only because they’d be clickbait.

But the larger issue here, the issue of the news media shielding Americans from the consequences of their own decisions, remains alive and virulent, from war to job-killing trade agreements to Internet-killing FCC regulation to deadly refusal to expand Medicaid to global warming. That’s wrong. In fact, it’s evil. And it’ll stop only when enough people raise enough hell with enough news outlets that it’s forced to stop. To paraphrase Fredrick Douglass, evil doesn’t stop when you say “please.” It never has and it never will.

UPDATE, 8/14/2014: I’m elevating from the comments a link provided by my friend Nick Graham to an Iraq War poem, “A Cold Coming,” written by Tony Harrison and originally published in the Guardian newspaper alongside the photo. I had not read it before. Damn if it doesn’t rank up with anything by Sassoon or Owen or Jarrell.

 

Monday, August 11, 2014 9:21 pm

Noted almost without comment, voter-impersonation fraud edition

A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast.

I was right. Again.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hayek

I read Friedrich A. von Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” several years ago, and although it wasn’t a total waste, I couldn’t understand how a guy whose thinking was so obviously messed up in some ways could be held in such high regard. It turns out that I was missing a whole bunch of backstory (an entire book’s worth, at least), as Robert Solow explained two whole years ago (h/t Brad DeLong for unearthing this), while I was in grad school and not reading much of anything not school-related:

The source of confusion here is that there was a Good Hayek and a Bad Hayek. The Good Hayek was a serious scholar who was particularly interested in the role of knowledge in the economy (and in the rest of society). Since knowledge—about technological possibilities, about citizens’ preferences, about the interconnections of these, about still more—is inevitably and thoroughly decentralized, the centralization of decisions is bound to generate errors and then fail to correct them. The consequences for society can be calamitous, as the history of central planning confirms. That is where markets come in. All economists know that a system of competitive markets is a remarkably efficient way to aggregate all that knowledge while preserving decentralization.

But the Good Hayek also knew that unrestricted laissez-faire is unworkable. It has serious defects: successful actors reach for monopoly power, and some of them succeed in grasping it; better-informed actors can exploit the relatively ignorant, creating an inefficiency in the process; the resulting distribution of income may be grossly unequal and widely perceived as intolerably unfair; industrial market economies have been vulnerable to excessively long episodes of unemployment and underutilized capacity, not accidentally but intrinsically; environmental damage is encouraged as a way of reducing private costs—the list is long. Half of Angus Burgin’s book is about the Good Hayek’s attempts to formulate and to propagate a modified version of laissez-faire that would work better and meet his standards for a liberal society. (Hayek and his friends were never able to settle on a name for this kind of society: “liberal” in the European tradition was associated with bad old Manchester liberalism, and neither “neo-liberal” nor “libertarian” seemed to be satisfactory.)

The Bad Hayek emerged when he aimed to convert a wider public. Then, as often happens, he tended to overreach, and to suggest more than he had legitimately argued. The Road to Serfdom was a popular success but was not a good book. Leaving aside the irrelevant extremes, or even including them, it would be perverse to read the history, as of 1944 or as of now, as suggesting that the standard regulatory interventions in the economy have any inherent tendency to snowball into “serfdom.” The correlations often run the other way. Sixty-five years later, Hayek’s implicit prediction is a failure, rather like Marx’s forecast of the coming “immiserization of the working class.”

So, basically, conservatives are reading Hayek the same way they read the Bible, which is to say selectively. Hayek imposed some limits and context on some of his ideas, just as Jesus imposed the same on the Law and the Prophets, and conservatives conveniently overlook them in both cases. Moreover, Hayek, not being divine and all, fell prey to overreach, as intellectuals of all political stripes have done throughout history, and conservatives have been unable or unwilling to recognize that when it happened.

It has become an article of faith among some progressives that Hayek, like Milton Friedman after him, is the enemy. I think it’s not quite that bad: Both men had both good and bad ideas; both men had ideas that would benefit the less-well-off (guaranteed basic income from Hayek; negative income tax, which amounts to almost the same thing, from Friedman) as well as some that would turn the economy radioactive. I think it’s only fair to treat the work of both with a combination of openness and skepticism: openness to that which already has been demonstrated to work, or that might work to the benefit of the poor; skepticism toward that which already has been shown not to work or that appears likely to harm the poor. I defer to economic experts as to how much of each constitutes each man’s oeurve while reserving the right to call BS on stuff I already know from experience is BS.

Friday, August 8, 2014 7:15 pm

Even if the White House door HAD hit him on the ass on the way out, it would have been too late.

Forty years ago today, and far too late, Richard Milhous Nixon resigned from the presidency of the United States. He became the first president to do so, and he did so because House Republican leaders had come to tell him that articles of  impeachment were likely to be approved by the House. Even then, Nixon worked the angles: If he were convicted and impeached, he’d lose all his tax-paid federal benefits. If he resigned, he could spend the rest of his life on the taxpayer’s tit. So he resigned.

It is tempting for people who weren’t there, which is a majority of the country, and for people who were there but are dishonest, to say that Nixon wasn’t that bad, especially in comparison with who came later. That argument is wrong on its face — Nixon was stone evil, driven by resentment and paranoia to become America’s most thug-like president. Yeah, some nice domestic things like the EPA happened on his watch, but he himself had never given a rat’s ass about domestic policy. He basically told aides handling domestic policy to do as they liked as long as it didn’t hurt him politically, and unlike today, people were still ready, willing, and able to vote against polluters.

That argument also is wrong in that it is difficult to imagine the evil that would come after Nixon having happened had Nixon himself not happened. Had Humphrey taken him (and it was very close, remember), or, dear God, if Robert Kennedy had lived to claim the Democratic nomination (he’d have destroyed Nixon in the general), a whole different group of people with a very different mindset would have been in government then, both in leadership positions at the time or in junior positions that would have qualified them for leadership positions in subsequent administrations.

The Vietnam War would have ended much more quickly and there would have been no Ford pardon of Nixon — two things that hugely increased bipartisan cynicism and distrust of government. The Southern Strategy might have worked in the South, but not so much anywhere else. Reagan is inconceivable as a politician without Nixon, and Jesse Helms, with all the evil appertaining unto him, is almost as unimaginable. And Reagan’s minions foisted the Bush dynasty, with all its corruption and lies and crimes, upon us as well.

Still, Nixon was quite as evil in his own right as anyone who has come before or since. He was a racist, an anti-Semite, a proto-fascist (and quite willing to help real fascists, as with Pinochet in Chile, even at the cost of thousands of innocent lives).

And he didn’t engage in all this evil in service of some larger issue, however infernal. No, Richard Nixon did what he did for Richard Nixon and for Richard Nixon alone.

I’ve said it before here, but it bears repeating: It is impossible to understand Nixon in both the breadth of his complexity and the depth of his immorality without having read Hunter S. Thompson’s writings on Nixon. The worst in Nixon brought out the best in Thompson, a writer I love but who, even I must admit, was capable of inconsistent performance on other subjects. Here is Thompson’s piece on the occasion of Nixon’s death 20 years ago, which still gleams like a newly cut and polished diamond. But an arguably better Thompson epitaph appeared in Rolling Stone just weeks before before Nixon’s re-election and almost two years before Nixon would be driven in disgrace from Washington:

If the current polls are reliable … Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states … This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes … understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose … Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

Thompson’s question was rhetorical, but we have gotten real-life answers, consistently bad and consistently worsening, in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation. That evil, too, must be laid at his putrid, cloven feet.

 

 

When all your problems are First World problems …

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 6:56 pm

… how do you strike a balance between narcissism and sainthood? One of my favorite pseudonymous bloggers has some thoughts:

One of my favorite TV miniseries is Simon Schama’s A History of Britain. I’ve always loved Britain’s creativity, intellectualism and orderliness — three sure traits of a great civilization. Then you watch Schama’s history and see how much Britain suffered — horribly violent and negligent rulers, terrible plagues, devastating fires, attacks from overseas, and everything else imaginable. There’s a reason Marsellus Wallace warns he’s about to get medieval on someone’s ass.

Somehow, Britain persevered. It even thrived, producing great works of literature and science. Today, it’s a peaceful and prosperous land — not without its problems, but with so much to offer its residents and the rest of the world.

So perhaps the lesson is that those of us who have the good fortune to live in peaceful places must do exactly that. Live. Take advantage of what you have.

“Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it,” Gandhi said.

So I give to charities and, on very rare occasions, to political candidates who aren’t total sociopaths. There’s some stuff I won’t buy because the companies that make or serve it are egregiously sociopathic. (All corporations are sociopathic by definition, but not all of them choose to be dicks about it.) There are a few other things I do.

Does what I do make a big difference? Of course not. But if everybody does a few things that don’t make a big difference, maybe the ride to Hell will be a little longer, and maybe the extra time we buy can be used to alter the outcome.

And any resemblance to hope in that previous sentence is purely intentional.

 

Thursday, August 7, 2014 8:31 pm

“With the ACA we have placed a lot of bets.”

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong offers 10 big-picture thoughts on the Affordable Care Act’s history, politics, and performance to date. It’s smart, it’s easy to understand, and, to my eye, it’s 100 percent right — even the parts where he criticizes President Obama.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 7:37 pm

What if?, U.S. “presidents” edition

From Brad DeLong’s 10-year-old archives, a fascinating alternative history by his brother, Chris, based on the notion that instead of taking the late-18th-century British Constitution, “dry-cleaned, brushed, and patched,” and adopting it, the Framers in 1787 instead adopted the Imperial Roman practice in which each Emperor “‘adopted’ the leading military politician of the next generation as his successor.” Oddly enough, for the most part we’d’ve been OK, it seems, although we still would’ve been screwed in the mid-19th century — Lincoln certainly did better than any career military man of the time could have, and we still ended up with 600,000 dead — and might well have been screwed during the Depression and the ’80s as well. YMMV, of course.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 6:26 pm

“Thunderstruck.” With spoons.

Filed under: Fun,Salute! — Lex @ 6:26 pm
Tags: , ,

Not quite as cool as the flaming-bagpipes version, but damn fine musicianship nonetheless. Well played, boys. Well played.

Monday, August 4, 2014 12:47 pm

Happy birthday to …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 12:47 pm
Tags:

… my youngest brother and a great American, Hugh Carter Alexander!

Sunday, August 3, 2014 3:49 pm

Well, on torture, Obama is now officially As Bad As Bush

Jesus wept:

Even before I came into office, I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects.

A mid-level Bush functionary? No. That’s the current president of the United States, a man who, just weeks into his presidency, described waterboarding as torture.

What a craven, morally bankrupt speech. From the incongruous use of “folks” to describe people against whom the United States of America committed violations of U.S. and international law, to the point of death in dozens of instances, to the condescending notion that in the immediate wake of 9/11 we were all so deathly terrified that we would have thrown any and all moral and constitutional principles aside for the sake of a false assurance of safety, this is a morally toxic pile of bullshit. And it’s even more offensive, coming as it does from the same president who told graduating West Point cadets in 2010:

A fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them — through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard; even when we’re being attacked; even when we’re in the midst of war.

Now, however, we get, “But we were SKEERED!” and “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious.” These comments are the ashes of our last remaining hope that this president, twice elected against one addled former war hero and one stone-cold sociopath, might, in his grappling with perhaps the most difficult ethical quandary a U.S. president has faced since Hiroshima, finally lead us down the path of righteousness. The reason he doesn’t want to look back is that his view in that direction is objectively wrong. Some of us — many of us, in fact — were saying AT THE TIME that it was important to preserve our humane values, such as they were, while pursuing the 9/11 perps, even as we feared that the crew in power was about the last group in the country likely to do that. We were right then; we are right now.

What prompted these remarks was the report by the CIA inspector general that, contrary to all previous assurances, the CIA had, in fact, hacked the computers of congressional staffers tasked with overseeing the CIA. Yet this president, who should be firing John Brennan and referring his case to the Justice Department’s criminal division, instead is defending him and his agency, not only against the current crimes (the CIA is barred by law from domestic operations, in addition to laws banning hacking without a warrant) but also against its previous war crimes. By the way, Brennan played a role in those, too; Obama never should have nominated him in the first place.

Torture is never right. Not ever. It is illegal, immoral, and ineffective. We waterboarded people? Dear God, so did Japanese military leaders during WWII, and you know what we call them now? Executed war criminals.

This president needs to get rid of John Brennan today. (And if he won’t and the House is really hot to impeach somebody, they could do a lot worse than to start with Brennan.) And despite having saddled himself with the worst attorney general since John Mitchell, he needs to direct that AG to open a criminal investigation of torture, focused not on the Lynndie Englands of the world but on those who gave the orders. We are bound by U.S. and international law to do so, and if the law means anything anymore — an open question, I admit — then we have no other choice.

“Looking forward, not back,” this president’s mantra, hasn’t worked. And looking forward won’t work until we look back, in anger and sorrow, come to terms with what we did, and make at least some sincere effort toward atoning for it. Following the laws to which we as a country were willing signatories is the bare minimum, but right now I’d settle even for that. Otherwise, this stuff will only happen again, and next time it will be worse, because, as history teaches us, the next time is always worse.

Monday, July 28, 2014 5:51 pm

The shadow of the U.S. Constitution crosses our state line

Today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction includes not only Virginia but also from West Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas.

Thus, as of today, North Carolina’s shameful Amendment One has a bulls-eye on its back. Judges in pending and future challenges to it now have guidance from the 4th Circuit. That guidance will make the bigots, the homophobes, and the sincerely misguided alike unhappy, but it is essential if my native state is to become its best self.

Saturday, July 26, 2014 9:56 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 9:56 am

… to a proud, successful small-business owner and a great American, my brother Frank!

Friday, July 25, 2014 7:12 pm

Journalism = bullshit detection, and it’s not like we couldn’t use more of that.

Apparently some people have questioned the value of high-school journalism, including some who teach it. I didn’t take part in it myself, and despite 25 years in the newspaper bidness, I would not recommend that a bright young person today go to work for a conventional newspaper — for reasons pertaining to vision, finance and management, not journalism. But I digress.

Anyway, to set the stage, here’s a piece by Angela Washeck, who sought certification as a high-school journalism instructor in Texas. I won’t quibble with her facts, but here’s her conclusion, which also is OK on its own terms but misses a very important larger point:

The [certification] test, though, whose competencies reflect the content journalism teachers are expected to teach, is not current or especially relevant, and it’s a far cry from the state of current university-level journalism education. The test’s biggest strength is probably its photojournalism and design section, which requires that teachers know the uses of digital imagery and principles of basic composition.

Not all students who enter college journalism programs are coming from high school newspaper classes or staffs (myself included), but high school journalism class serves as a foundation for many young writers and photographers. I am not saying either that high school journalism teachers aren’t knowledgeable or capable of developing a more digital-first curriculum at the school or classroom level. In many schools, they have complete freedom, and in some high schools, journalism instructors are choosing to forgo the print newspaper and go all online.

My observation is simply that we live in a digital world, where journalists are expected to excel technologically regardless of print success. Texas high school journalism educator standards outline old-school tenets that don’t paint an accurate picture of what defines today’s media industry. In a journalism space where social media, mobile journalism and video content prevail, state curriculum isn’t doing students favors by ignoring new technologies. Yes, large state bureaucracies tend to move slowly in updating curriculum, but teachers who go above and beyond the assigned standards would find ways to integrate these technologies into classroom instruction.

Ma’am, high-school journalism should not be intended as vocational training, although if some vo-tech training happens along the way, that’s cool. It is, rather, more about the process than the product, as Adam Maksl points out:

The product of high school media classes, in many cases a yearbook or newspaper, is no more the central purpose of a scholastic journalism program than winning a football game is to team sports. Instead, it’s about the process, how students engage and work together, and the level of responsibility teachers encourage throughout.

Exceptional parents and educators know this. We don’t encourage our children to play with blocks from a young age because we expect them all to be architects and builders. We do it because we know the seemingly simple task of stacking diverse, colored objects into myriad shapes encourages cognitive development and problem solving. So it is with scholastic journalism.

In the comments to Washeck’s piece, Betsy Pollard Rau, a former Michigan high school journalism teacher whose students have won many reporting awards, said that some students went on to careers in journalism, but many more used skills learned in high school journalism in other professions like science, medicine and business.

“Yearbook, digital and newspaper experiences are merely the vehicles,” Rau wrote in the comments. “It is the destination that matters. High school journalism classes teach students higher level thinking skills, prepare them to deal with stress, give them opportunities to work as a team, meet deadlines, problem solve, write, shoot and edit.”

In fact, conflating the purpose of scholastic journalism with any single tangible product is tantamount to the misapplication and misuse of standardized testing as benchmarks for student learning. It’s exactly this logic that has reduced our students to the sum of their test scores, excluded teachers from educational policy decisions and made our schools prisons for creative and energetic young minds.

Journalism is, then, a process — what New York University’s Jay Rosen has called “the discipline of verification” — and a mindset, which is that power of all kinds, be it governmental, religious, or corporate, must be held to account if our society is to remain free. Athenae at First Draft elaborates:

You’re teaching people to use the bullshit detectors God gave them, and I don’t see anything wrong with that at the high school level. In college [journalism], you’ve got people who plan on practicing the craft, and that requires a little more focus and specialization and fine-tuning, but you’re still teaching people to take a look at what an authority figure tells them and start from the assumption that it is a complete falsehood. You’re still teaching people to find out that which no one wants known and tell as many people as possible through whatever means are at their disposal.

For some kids that instinct is a natural one. Some of us have authority issues from the start. [That'd be me -- L.] Some of us have a sociopathic ability to step outside the normal human experience and immediately begin processing how to communicate the horror around us in such a way as to advocate for its cessation, without being overtaken by that horror ourselves. Some of us just naturally run toward the sound of explosions instead of away.

(Some of us are just nosy, annoying [expletives]. A good 40 percent of the best reporters I know are absolute [expletive] loonballs unwelcome in polite society. Our suspicious minds, greedy for more more more information and unable to prioritize anything higher than satisfying our curiosity, make us unreliable dinner companions. It’s why we tend to socialize with one another. Anybody else would object to her date being perpetually two hours late and constantly jabbering about TIF districts.)

Some kids, though? Some kids should be taught that the world is different under its skin, that if you’re going to love your society you have to make it worth loving, and that means ripping it down to its ugly bones. Some kids need to be pushed to criticize the ropes that hold them up. Some kids should be shown the way change happens, all change: Somebody stands up and yells that the way it’s always been is total horseshit and knock it off.

Those lessons don’t have to come in journalism classes, but: In how many high school subjects are you encouraged to take something apart and put it back together again? In how many high school classes do you get to make something, really really make something, with your own hands? In how many high school classes can you learn to stand up for yourself and your right to know something, at an age when the adult world thinks you’re either a moron or a wuss?

If high school journalism classes aren’t creating journalists, then at least they are nurturing the instinct to call bullshit on the whole world. Student A might not end up a reporter, but he’s gonna be on the phone with his insurance company arguing a denied claim all night because he’s learned not to take no for an answer. Student B might not end up a copy editor, but she’s sure as shit going to make sure the company she works for has all its signs spelled right. Student C might not end up a producer but the annual report will be delivered on time, no matter how many hours of overtime it [expletive] takes.

Student D might not do anything more engaged with society than overhear something on the radio and think, “That sounds like a lie.” And that’s enough to justify a thousand high school papers.

In other words, done right, high-school journalism teaches a student at a young age to think critically. In an age in which government, the church and, especially, corporations are insisting upon increasing their intrusion into our personal lives and lying shamelessly about the reasons, we cannot cultivate this instinct enough if we want to remain a truly free country.

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 8:13 pm

If only the public flaying were not metaphorical

So recently, Politico, not known for either journalistic ethics or simple human decency, sat down to have a chat with Dick Cheney, his harridan erstwhile-lesbian-porn-writing wife Lynne, and his inept erstwhile political-candidate daughter Liz.

To talk about foreign policy.

With “noted mortgage fraud concern” Bank of America as sponsor.

I’m sorry to report that fricassee of feces was not on the menu, but the “chat” was utterly full of it. So, boy, howdy, was I happy to see Charlie Pierce at Esquire give the unindicted war criminal, his vile relatives, and Politico the hiding they so richly deserved. I’m delighted to say that no one was spared, not even the children.

NoOneWasSpared

Just a few gems:

[Politico's] puerilty has finally crossed over into indecency. Its triviality has finally crossed over into obscenity. The comical political starfcking that is its primary raison d’erp has finally crossed over into $10 meth-whoring on the Singapore docks.

… and …

It’s not just that TBOTP["Tiger Beat on the Potomac" -- Pierce's epithet for Politico] invited the Manson Family of American geopolitics to come together for an exercise in ensemble prevarication. It’s not just that the account of said exercise is written in the kind of cacophonous cutesy-poo necessary to drown out the screams of the innocent dead, and to distract the assembled crowd from the blood that has dripped from the wallet of the celebrity war-criminal leading the public display. And it’s not as though this was a mere interview—a “get” that could help you “win the morning (!).” In that, it might have been marginally excusable. No, this was one of [Politico editor] Mike Allen’s little grift-o-rama special events—a “Playbook lunch,” sponsored by that noted mortgage fraud concern Bank Of America. There’s an upcoming TBOTP “event” in L.A. that is sponsored by J.P. Morgan. I know what Mike Allen is, but I am so goddamn tired of haggling about the price.

… and …

That’s the freaking problem? That Dad and Mom and Exemptionette got together, but The Gay One didn’t show up. The problem was not that your publication decided to publicize itself, and suck up some of that sweet sponsorship cash from Wall Street, by putting a coward and a torturer on display with the more unpleasant members of his family? The problem was not that the alleged journalists running your place decided to give a platform to a man whose only public appearances in the near future should be unsponsored events at the Hague?

It goes on like that, a righteous rant to rank with the best of Thompson and Taibbi. I didn’t even quote the best parts.

I have not had a lot of energy or attention for blogging of late. (I’m actually finally reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and I also just discovered “Breaking Bad.” Sue me.) But I’m glad that Pierce is on the job. And some of the commenters give as good as Pierce does; I particularly liked the notion that Cheney will outlive even Keith Richards for all the wrong reasons.

Anyway, go read and get mad all over again — at the war criminal, his family, and the whores who give him a platform. They’re all deserving targets of wrath. For as Liz Cheney says herownself, “You can’t be responsible about the future if you don’t understand what happened in the past.”

 

Sunday, June 29, 2014 10:26 am

Ready for my close-up, I guess.

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 10:26 am
Tags: , ,

One of Greensboro’s best blogs identifies this here establishment as one of Greensboro’s best blogs. Inasmuch as I do far less original reporting than some of the other folks on the list, and have devoted far less time to blogging in general lately, I’m humbled to be included. Thanks, Liv!

Monday, June 23, 2014 7:01 pm

In which John Oliver shows Dr. Oz how to pander without making potentially life-threatening medical claims

N.C. seeks to immunize pension-fund managers, banks from criminal liability

Really, that’s about the only way you can read this:

In the last few months, there has been increasingpressure on public officials to stop hiding the basic terms of the investment agreements being cemented between governments and Wall Street’s “alternative investment” industry.

That pressure has been intensified, in part, by twosets of recent leaks showing how these alternative investment companies (private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, etc.) are using the secret deals to make hundreds of millions of dollars off taxpayers. It is also in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission recently declaring that many of the stealth schemes may be illegal.

And yet, as the demands for transparency grow louder, a potentially precedent-setting push for even more secrecy is emerging. Pando has learned that legislators in North Carolina — whose $86 billion public pension fund is the 7th largest in America – are proposing to statutorily bar the public from seeing details of the state’s Wall Street transactions for at least a decade. That time frame is significant: according to experts, it would conceal the terms of the investment agreements for longer than the statute of limitations of various securities laws.

In other words, the legislation – which could serve as a model in state legislatures everywhere – would bar the disclosure of the state’s financial transactions until many existing securities laws against financial fraud become unenforceable.

A growing scandal in North Carolina

If the North Carolina Retirement System and its sole trustee, Treasurer Janet Cowell (D), seem familiar to tech readers, that is because the NC system is one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action suit surrounding Facebook’s initial public offering. Additionally, as part of her career in the financial sector, Cowell was the marketing director for the tech-focused VC firm, SJF Ventures.

Like other states, North Carolina has been redacting and/or refusing to release the contractual terms of its pension fund’s massive Wall Street investments, even though the contracts involve public money and a public agency.* In recent months, that practice exploded into a full-fledged political scandal when the State Employees Association of North Carolina released a 147-page report from former SEC investigator Ted Siedle.

The report asserted that under Cowell, up to $30 billion of state money is now being managed by high-risk, high-fee Wall Street firms, and that the state could soon be paying $1 billion a year in fees to those firms. The report also noted that the investment strategy “has underperformed the average public plan by $6.8 billion” and it alleged that Cowell has misled the public about how where exactly she is investing taxpayer dollars. The union has called for a federal investigation, while Cowell has publicly denied the allegations.

Note that it’s state employees, a majority of whom are presumably Democrats, calling for a federal investigation of a Democratic state official.

I don’t know whether the state’s Republicans just haven’t had this issue on their radar, or whether they see a payoff in insulating investment banks and other financial institutions with which the state does business from criminal liability. But either way, their silence is puzzling. And since banks are about as popular with Americans right now as strychnine, this down-low approach by the GOP doesn’t even make political sense.

*This practice appears to this layperson to be a clear violation of North Carolina’s Open Records Law. No exception recognized in the statute to the presumption that a record is public applies to this information. This practice appears to be the equivalent of your stockbroker refusing to tell you where and how he has invested your money: Would you find that arrangement acceptable?

Additional, deeply scary and infuriating background via Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:

North Carolina’s investment performance in alternative investments is terrible. Of 23 reporting public pension funds, it ranked 21 in real estate and 23 in private equity. Whether due to corruption or incompetence, it is clear the state would have done better and at lower cost buying a mix of index funds. So the notion that these persistent bad results are due to payola is worth taking seriously.

However, the overwhelming majority of abuses Siedle cites [in the report linked above -- Lex], such as charging of dubious fees, pervasive broker-dealer violations, pension fund consultant conflicts of interest, various securities and tax law violations, also take place with investors who have no potential for pay to play to be operating, such as private pension funds, life insurers, and endowments like Harvard that also invest in private equity. We’ve written about many of these bad practices in earlier posts, and have had to stress the degree to which limited partners have deeply internalized the idea that they can get better returns from private equity than from other investment strategies, and therefore they can’t cavil about the terms, since otherwise they won’t be allowed into this club. In keeping, the SEC has said, with uncharacteristic bluntness, that supposedly sophisticated limited partners have entered into agreements which are vague on far too many key terms and weak on investor protections.

Disclosure: Never having worked as a public employee in North Carolina or anywhere else, I have no direct interest in the state’s pension fund; nor, so far as I know, do I have any indirect interest beyond being a North Carolina taxpayer.

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