After I took the News & Record to task for normalizing the grossly abnormal candidacy of Mark Walker for the 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, reporter Joe Killian wrote a column today on Walker, saying, among other things, “I’ve seen him in a lot of different situations. I’d tell you if he was crazy. He’s not.”
Killian, who’s covering the 6th District race, summarizes:
Crazy people may be crazy, but they generally believe the crazy things that they’re saying.
Mark Walker does not think Barack Obama may declare martial or Sharia law. He does not really believe the president has been spending billions of dollars — with a B! — on family vacations. He doesn’t actually have no qualms about bombings at the border that could start a war with Mexico.
But he still says these things. Why?
Because there’s something in him that wants to please a crowd, be it a Tea Party rally or a small clutch of cynical journalists. He can’t help himself. He gets carried away. And that makes for some great performances — but it doesn’t help you understand who he really is, what he really thinks.
Being a United States congressman shouldn’t be like being a stripper. You do not want your representative in Washington driven by the excitement of the crowd, the adrenaline rush of approval. You don’t want him doing the policy equivalent of a fevered bump and grind routine to Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” while lobbyists, corporations and political action committees shove sweaty fists full of dollars into his campaign G-string.
I still think Walker is batshit. But Joe has spent more face time with Walker than I have, so I’m not dismissing his take out of hand.
But whether he is or isn’t crazy, the larger fact remains: He is manifestly unfit to be my next congresscritter, but he almost certainly is going to be anyway. FML.
If you liked 2008, you’ll love what could happen next:
Koch is also reaping the benefits from Dodd-Frank’s impacts on Wall Street. The so-called Volcker Rule, implemented at the end of last year, bans investment banks from “proprietary trading” – investing on their own behalf in securities and derivatives. As a result, many Wall Street banks are unloading their commodities-trading units. But Volcker does not apply to nonbank traders like Koch. They’re now able to pick up clients who might previously have traded with JPMorgan. In its marketing materials for its trading operations, Koch boasts to potential clients that it can provide “physical and financial market liquidity at times when others pull back.” Koch also likely benefits from loopholes that exempt the company from posting collateral for derivatives trades and allow it to continue trading swaps without posting the transactions to a transparent electronic exchange. Though competitors like BP and Cargill have registered with the CFTC as swaps dealers – subjecting their trades to tightened regulation – Koch conspicuously has not.
So, basically, Koch can now do to the nation’s and the world’s commodities markets what it has done to our air and water. And Congress, its morals and environmental concerns lubed by tens of millions in Koch lobbying money, is letting the company go right ahead and do that. And it will do it; the company’s regulatory and criminal record is one of almost unrelieved violations, punctuated only by fines that, while perhaps big in historical terms, are no more than a minor annoyance to the company’s balance sheet. More than enough evidence exists to level a RICO charge against CEO Charles Koch.
That a massive company with such a troubling record as Koch Industries remains unfettered by financial regulation should strike fear in the heart of anyone with a stake in the health of the American economy. Though Koch has cultivated a reputation as an economically conservative company, it has long flirted with danger. And that it has not suffered a catastrophic loss in the past 15 years would seem to be as much about luck as about skillful management.
What Congress does not seem to grasp is that luck and hope are not plans. Meanwhile, Koch Industries is doing its own planning:
In “the science of success,” Charles Koch highlights the problems created when property owners “don’t benefit from all the value they create and don’t bear the full cost from whatever value they destroy.” He is particularly concerned about the “tragedy of the commons,” in which shared resources are abused because there’s no individual accountability. “The biggest problems in society,” he writes, “have occurred in those areas thought to be best controlled in common: the atmosphere, bodies of water, air. . . .”
But in the real world, Koch Industries has used its political might to beat back the very market-based mechanisms – including a cap-and-trade market for carbon pollution – needed to create the ownership rights for pollution that Charles says would improve the functioning of capitalism.
In fact, it appears the very essence of the Koch business model is to exploit breakdowns in the free market. Koch has profited precisely by dumping billions of pounds of pollutants into our waters and skies – essentially for free. It racks up enormous profits from speculative trades lacking economic value that drive up costs for consumers and create risks for our economy.
That is a business model for whose banning we have more than sufficient justification. Koch Industries is the industrial and financial equivalent of a serial killer. It has killed many times, and left unimpeded, it is certain to kill again many more times.
Let the record reflect that when I predicted on Facebook that the News & Record would never cover the recent batshit comments of Mark Walker, the 6th Congressional District GOP nominee, I was wrong: The News & Record published an editorial on the subject today.
Let the record also reflect, however, that that editorial bent over backwards to whitewash Walker’s comments and to shield him from the consequences of what he said in a way that is fundamentally inconsistent with the mission of an honest news outlet.
Walker said at a campaign event in June that the U.S. should launch a war against Mexico to ensure its border security, saying that “we did it before. If we need to do it again, I don’t have a qualm about it.”
First, the editorial tried to pretend that what happened didn’t happen, claiming, on the basis of zero evidence, “It’s reassuring that Republican 6th District congressional candidate Mark Walker does not want the United States to launch a war against Mexico.” The paper apparently, and inexplicably, is willing to accept at face value Walker’s claim that his comment was “tongue in cheek.”
Then, just in case that whitewash didn’t work, the N&R did what the lawyers call arguing in the alternative, saying that it wasn’t necessarily a joke but was merely pandering, a case of Walker saying something he didn’t believe in order to curry favor with, to be kind, low-information voters. Again, in point of fact, there’s no evidence in the record that Walker was saying something he didn’t believe.
Indeed, what little evidence there is inclines a fair-minded person toward thinking that Walker said exactly what he believed.
He also, as the editorial pointed out, has said that President Obama should be impeached and that Obama might declare martial law and sharia law to keep himself in office after the 2016 elections. Once again, the N&R took the position that Walker was saying things he didn’t believe, in the face of zero evidence that that was in fact the case.
The paper said that the controversy arose after video of Walker’s comments was posted to a “left-wing website,” as if the remarks weren’t controversial, and newsworthy, in and of themselves. (Indeed, where was the N&R when the remarks originally were uttered?)
And it noted that Walker’s Democratic opponent, Laura Fjeld, has called Walker “crazy” but, again, in the face of exactly zero evidence, concluded that that can’t be true.
The kindest thing that can be said about the N&R’s approach to this issue is that it is allowing the GOP to benefit from the soft bigotry of low expectations. What’s closer to the truth, I think, is that the N&R knows good and goddamn well that Walker is crazy but has decided to ignore the fact out of fears of being labeled “liberal.”
Well, welcome to the real world, guys: Republicans are going to call you liberal no matter what you say, so you might as well speak the truth. And the likeliest truth in this case is that Walker meant every damn word he said.
Does Walker really think, after what happened to George Allen in the Virginia senate race a few years back, that his remarks won’t be videotaped and distributed? And does he really think he can just call something “tongue-in-cheek” and not be held further responsible for it?
No, the likelier explanation is that Walker meant every word he said, and the only sane conclusion that can be drawn from that fact is that the nominee of one of the two major parties for the 6th District seat in the U.S. House is crazier than a bag of bugs. If the N&R won’t say it, I damned well will and dare Walker to prove otherwise. The News & Record was wrong and Laura Fjeld was right.
And what the News & Record appears utterly ignorant of is that not just Walker but also dozens, if not hundreds, of GOP candidates for office, from president down to county commissioner and city council, have uttered stuff just as batshit insane as what Walker said, and in many cases worse. The News & Record seems oblivious to the fact that one of our two major parties has succumbed to a virus of unadulterated batshit insanity and appears unwilling to hold the party as a whole or its individual candidates accountable for their feverish words.
I shouldn’t have to tell a building full of writers this, but words have meaning. The default response to a political candidate’s comments ought to be to assume that he/she means exactly what he/she said. If a candidate can’t speak extemporaneously (or, worse, from prepared notes) without later having to repeatedly claim that he/she was “speaking tongue-in-cheek,” then that candidate isn’t fit for elected office at any level.
And if the News & Record had the balls God gave a billy goat, it would say so.
Bell House, a nonprofit, specialized assisted-living center here in Greensboro that serves people with orthopedic and/or neurological problems such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, will be closing in two months.
It’s not entirely clear where its current residents will go.
The center blames Medicaid cuts.
Insurance executive Richard Mayhew explains why this didn’t have to happen.
TL;DR version: It’s the fault of Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP legislature.
For a good while, a number of other local bloggers, most prominently Ed Cone and Roch Smith Jr., have taken the News & Record to task for publishing letters to the editor that contain untrue assertions of fact. I’ve even sent editorial-page editor Allen Johnson a private email or two on that subject.
Well, today we get a twofer. We hear from one Steven M. Shelton, who complains that smoking shouldn’t have been banned on county property because notions that second-hand smoke is harmful are “the old cliche” and “nonsense.” And we also are treated by Gary Marschall to the already-debunked notion that “recent findings” involving carbon-14 testing of T-rex tissue indicate that the fossil in question was only about 6,000 years old. (In point of fact, the people pushing that line are distorting what researcher Mary Schweitzer said to the point of mendacity — and ignoring the fact that she said her own findings are not to be taken as evidence that dinosaurs existed as recently as 6,000 years ago.)
I think we can safely assume that now the News & Record is just trolling us.
Memo to N&R editor/publisher Jeff Gauger and owner BH Media: I get that you want the N&R to be a community paper. And that’s exactly what you should want; we’re all going elsewhere for national and international news. But “community” means focused on local people, events, and businesses. It does not mean giving a voice to every mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger with a keyboard and an opinion. It does not mean mindless boosterism or abdicating the paper’s responsibility for accountability journalism. As you aren’t from ’round here, I feel obliged to point out that not all that long ago, a North Carolina newspaper with a circulation of about 10,000 won a Pulitzer Prize.
People in small and medium-sized communities need, and deserve, journalism as good as — or better than — what people get in major metropolitan areas. And because so many such communities have few or no other news outlets capable of, or willing to engage in, accountability journalism and an overall level of trustworthiness that translate into engagement with readers and advertisers, it falls to the newspapers to do the job. Like it or not, BH Media, this is the business you have chosen. It might not be realistic to expect a Pulitzer from the N&R, but it damned sure is realistic — in fact, it’s a pretty low bar — to expect that the paper refrain from adding to the ever-growing pile of bullshit that now constitutes our public discourse.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
First, a key paragraph from the offending Times article:
Few issues ignite such passion among the base of both parties. Democrats argue that the laws are intended to keep poor voters away from the polls because they often have difficulty obtaining identification. Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.
Now, an analysis of that paragraph by Felix Salmon, formerly with Reuters and now a senior editor at Fusion. Here’s the money quote:
I’m sure that if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a member of the Republican party who believes that cheating is rife in today’s elections. Hell, you could probably even find a member of the Democratic party who believes the same thing. But in general, I don’t think that Republicans believe — or even contend — that cheating is rife.
It’s certainly true that a lot of Republicans support voter ID laws. But you don’t need to think that cheating is rife in order to support such measures. In fact, you don’t even need to think that cheating exists in order to support such measures. It’s entirely rational to support a voter ID law even if cheating is rare or nonexistent, on the grounds that cheating is just too easy right now and that you want to make it harder.
In other words, Peters’s formulation actually does Republicans few favors. If you know anything at all about the voter ID debate, you know that (2) is true and (4) is false. Which means that if you know anything at all about the voter ID debate, and you read Peters’s article, you’ll come away thinking two things:
A) In order to support voter ID laws, you first need to believe that cheating is rife.
B) In general, Republicans are liars.
After all, if you contend that cheating is rife, as Peters says Republicans generally do, you are lying.
And, finally, Jay Rosen at PressThink, with the larger context. Money quote:
So what is that exceedingly crappy paragraph doing there on the newspaper-of-record’s front page? Salmon says it’s laziness. (“He-said-she-said is so easy, for a journalist on deadline, that both journalists and editors tend not to really thinking about exactly what they’re saying.”) Certainly ease-of-use is part of the device’s fading delights.
Here’s how I described the appeal of he said, she said in 2009. It makes the story writable on deadline when you don’t know enough to sort things out. In a “he said, she said” classic:
* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter [and the user] in the middle between polarized extremes.
I question whether that between-two-extremes territory, the “you figure it out/for us partisan polarization rules” space is valuable turf in the news business. I doubt that it’s “safe,” either, if you mean by safe: won’t do the brand harm. I think it’s likely to corrode trust over time. A conventional explanation for he said, she said says: it may be lazy or incomplete, but it is also a safe middle ground place to land so you can get the damn paper out!
But it’s not that safe. Democrats argue/Republicans contend/We have No Idea… increasingly won’t cut it for the Times, or its competitors like the FT, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Bloomberg. The upscale, high-information readers the Times wants to charge more money to, the core loyalists who are being asked to finance more of the operation— these users are increasingly likely to know about various preponderance-of-evidence callsindependent of whether the Times knows enough to include that review in its reporting. When this kind of reader comes upon he said, she said reporting on a big story where it’s CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, as with the right to vote: bad moment for the Times brand.
On the surface, this example appears to favor Republicans. Salmon argues that upon closer inspection, it favors Democrats by demonstrating that Republicans are liars on this issue. My big picture is that any one example isn’t the issue; the phenomenon is the problem. Some days I want to grab every publisher, executive editor, and executive producer in the country, slap them across the face and say what Jonathan Stewart famously said to then-“Crossfire” co-host Tucker Carlson: Stop it. You’re hurting the country.
Several different things can cause this kind of false-balance, he-said/she-said reporting to be published. Time pressure and byline-count requirements can tempt reporters to slap it down and file it without taking the trouble to see whether there is, in fact, a preponderance of the evidence (or preponderance of LACK of evidence) that would allow a reasonable conclusion to be drawn. Editors and publishers, in an era of dwindling circulation and readership and viewership and, correspondingly, ad revenue, don’t want to risk alienating a large segment of the public, even if that segment has been aboard an accelerating handbasket toward intellectual hell for the past half-century.
But you know what? Those are only excuses. If enough consumers of news demand it, news outlets that genuinely want to stay in business — not all do, but that’s a subject for another day — will respond accordingly. That said, those consumers need to target publishers, executive editors and managing editors, not the reporters who write this stuff or their assigning editors. Reporters write this stuff, and assigning editors send it on through to the copy desk, because they believe they can and/or must. If publishers, executive editors and managing editors — and, yes, I’m talking about my friends at the News & Record, among others — send the strong message that this kind of fake-ass reporting cannot and must not be published, then it won’t be. It’s that simple. So apply pressure in the right place; if nothing changes, then you know whom to blame.
Facts matter. Facts have consequences. And, dammit to hell, in the lives of real people, policy trumps politics. Journalists need to be committing journalism like they understand these things. Too many aren’t, and that crap must stop.
So it turns out that the political action committee Conservatives for Guilford County and four of its principals are suing local blogger Jeff Martin, who blogged under the pseudonym Fecund Stench, for defamation. If I liked popcorn, I’d be buying some.
First, the obligatory disclosures: Jeff and I have been friends online and in real life for years. (Less relevantly, his wife and my ex-wife used to work together at the old TriadStyle magazine, which is, indirectly, how he and I first met in real life.)
Second, for those of y’all not from ‘Round Here: C4GC is a local Tea Party outfit, with all the ideological baggage that that term implies. And Jeff Martin, a more traditional Republican, despises it and everyone associated with it. And Jeff plays hardball. To extend the baseball metaphor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him intentionally hit a batter, but when a batter crowds the plate, Jeff will throw a 99 mph brushback pitch and not lose a second’s sleep. I like him, but I don’t agree with every last thing he says. And fellow Greensboro blogger Ed Cone, who is more dispassionate about Jeff, says this about him: “At his best, Fecund Stench is Guilford County’s own, digital H.L. Mencken (and like Mencken, his use of racial and religious stereotypes can be an issue). At his not-best, duck.” I think that’s fair.
Now, the complaint, which you can read for yourself. (Jeff has 30 days to respond.)
Now, the obligatory disclaimer: I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t play one on the Internet. However, I did publish a fair bit of potential lawsuit bait about some incompetent and/or bad people during my 25 years in print journalism, consulting with lawyers many times in so doing, without ever being sued at all, let alone successfully. And my just-completed master’s program included a media-law course just a year ago. (Much of what appears below is adapted from the text for that course, The Law of Public Communication, by Kent R. Middleton and William E. Lee, published in 2013 by Pearson.) So I’m in a position to do a little analysis without attempting to say who will win.
Now, the caution: Jeff has taken the Fecund Stench blog down, apparently as a result of the lawsuit, so the posts quoted in the complaint are absent any context. That caution is important no matter which side of this case you’re inclined to come down on at the moment.
In plain English, the first question is: Are the plaintiffs — that is, C4GC and the four named individuals — public figures? The answer determines what they have to prove in order to win the suit. The answer is that they almost certainly are. They are not public officials — the least ambiguous type of public figure. But they are public figures. The PAC has attempted to play a role in local elections. Jodi Riddleberger is an occasional op-ed columnist for the News & Record. And so on.
I’ll explain why the fact that they are public figures is important in a minute. First, you need to know that to win a libel suit, plaintiffs must prove, at a minimum, all of the following six things:
Remember, the plaintiffs must prove all six to have a chance of winning.
Now, the public-figure status of the plaintiffs matters because of the level of fault they must prove as public figures, noted in bold above. In North Carolina, private figures under the law need not prove quite as much — merely that the allegedly libelous material was published negligently. But, as I noted, I’m pretty sure that C4GC and the named individual plaintiffs qualify as public figures because of how they have injected themselves into public debate on issues of public import, e.g., elections. If the court finds that they are in fact public figures, they’ll have to prove that Jeff knowingly or recklessly published false and defamatory statements about them.
Here’s the thing, though: Defendants in libel cases have several defenses available to them under the law, and if the defendant employs any of those defenses, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs not only to prove the six things listed above but also to show that those defenses are inadequate or don’t apply.
Some of those defenses that might relate to this case are:
Obviously, we can’t even begin to know until the discovery phase of the suit is complete whether plaintiffs can prove the six things they need to prove. Publication is a slam dunk, and for the sake of argument, let’s give all five plaintiffs the benefit of the doubt on identification. That still leaves falsity, defamation, injury, and fault, specifically that the plaintiffs must prove that Martin published false and defamatory material either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.
Which raises another issue. Is it provably false, for example, that plaintiff Brett Riddleberger “suffers from a medical condition known as Erectile Narcolepsy, by which loss of blood to the brain when aroused causes him to lose consciousness.” To this layman, a better question would be: Who, among those older than 9, would believe this to be true in the first place? This is arguably an example of the kind of exaggeration that cannot be considered libel.
Anything is possible in a lawsuit, particularly if a case actually gets tried in front of a jury. But few libel cases get that far. The farthest most ever get is that after discovery (in which each side is obliged to provide certain evidence to the other), both sides move for summary judgment — they ask the judge to rule for their side without even letting the case go to trial — and the judge grants it to one side or the other after determining that there are no real issues of fact for a jury to determine.
But even more likely than that is that the two sides settle or one side, usually plaintiffs, realizes that it has no case and cuts its losses. A letter from Jeff’s counsel, Ron Coleman, strongly suggests to plaintiff’s attorney that that is where this case should be headed:
Although we have only passing familiarity with the litigation pending in Guilford County at this point, we see no reason to doubt that a cooperative resolution of this matter is the likely outcome. In light of your own experience and considering your level of practice, we would expect that you see it the same way. If so, you will probably agree as well that we should make every effort to skip the stupid steps and get to that point now.
Rationally, I agree that that’s exactly where this case should be headed. But I’ll be honest: Part of me wants to see what plaintiffs have to say, under oath during depositions in the discovery phase of the suit, about the businesses of the Adkinses and the financial backing of C4GC. As a longtime Republican living in N.C.’s 6th Congressional District, I must vote in a runoff between the top two finishers in the May 6 GOP primary, one of whom, Mark Walker, is backed by C4GC. If one of the candidates is backed by money from strip clubs, I’d certainly find that relevant. It might or might not affect my ballot — past performance, more than anything else, generally dictates my voting decisions — but it might very well affect those of other Republican voters in the 6th District. It’s certainly germane. And, frankly, given the Christofascist nature of some of the candidates previously supported by C4GC, the possibility of exposing great hypocrisy is attractive to me.
In short, part of me wants to see plaintiffs spanked so hard their appendixes come flying out of their mouths.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about Jeff and his constitutional right to publish factual information, criticism, and even parody, and about the same rights for other bloggers, perhaps, one day, including me. Assuming everything he has published is either true fact, protected opinion or parody, not only does he need for this suit to go away, America needs for the plaintiffs to be driven away with their tails between their legs and lots of bright red bruises on their asses so that robust political commentary and criticism can continue unabated.
It takes a very special kind of stupid to inherit peace, prosperity and a budget surplus and explode the deficit, allow a horrific terrorist attack, launch a war both illegal and unnecessary (killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in the process), order Americans to carry out exactly the same kind of torture for which we hanged Germans and Japanese after World War II AND push policies that allowed the worst economic crisis in three-quarters of a century.
But it takes an even more special kind of stupid to say, on the subject of George W. Bush, to intelligent Americans, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” Naturally, these days we do not lack for that very special kind of stupid; we need only turn to Matt Bai, formerly of the Times Almighty and now with Yahoo, to find it:
A graphic this week on FiveThirtyEight.com showed how fewer and fewer Americans blame Bush for the country’s economic morass, even though his successor, Barack Obama, won two presidential campaigns based on precisely that premise.
Bush’s critics will argue that this is testament to how quickly we forget the past. But it has more to do, really, with how we distort the present.
The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.
Not just no, Matt, but hell, no.
I don’t need to read your buddy’s slobbery hagiography: I know what I saw and heard, out of the man’s own mouth, for eight long, painful, and disastrous years. For sheer incompetence, only Buchanan comes close, and in terms of the consequences of his stupidity, he is without peer or even parallel. America is vastly poorer, dumber, less free and yet more vulnerable today than it was in 2000, and the blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of Li’l Boots McDrydrunk and the monsters he hired. I heard the man talk, so I know for a fact that he is an imbecile. I heard him admit on ABC News that he ordered torture, so I know for a fact that he is an ogre. And you, sir, can go straight to hell with him.
The only thing I’m rooting for where Bush is concerned is a seat in the dock at The Hague. And while oral sex is no longer a crime, public oral sex still is, so, Matt, buddy, next time you sit down to write about Bush 43, I’d look around for cops first.
Outsourced, in the wake of the charging of Frazier Glenn Cross, the guy we North Carolinians knew as Glenn Miller, with three shooting deaths at Jewish centers in Kansas City, to Charlie Pierce:
I think this is a particularly good day to look back to, say, April of 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano presiding, put out a nine-page report in which the DHS pointed out that veterans were being recruited by rightwing terrorist groups around the country. (This was about when people started noticing that the real crazy had come out of the jar when this particular president had been sworn in.) Oh, the fuss that this raised.
John Boehner said of Napolitano that he wanted an “explanation for why she has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”
Professional rage puppet Michelle Malkin wrote: Moreover, the report relies on the work of the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center to stir anxiety over “disgruntled military veterans” – a citation which gives us valuable insight into how DHS will define “hate-oriented” groups. The SPLC, you see, has designated the venerable American Legion a “hate group” for its stance on immigration enforcement. The report offers zero data, but states with an almost resentful attitude toward protected free speech: “Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent.”
Well, if ol’ Frazier Glenn Miller had had his way, Malkin wouldn’t have had to worry about the left-leaning SPLC any more.
The fauxtrage did succeed in making the DHS withdraw the report, forcing Napolitano to apologize, and get everyone else to stop paying attention to the genuine extremism that had filtered into the conservative base of one of our two major political parties. This is a very good week to remember it, however.
And so it is.
Between 1984 and the early 1990s, I covered a lot of cluckers and other white supremacists. Most of them, to be charitable, couldn’t find their own asses with both hands and a flashlight. The late Virgil Griffin, perhaps the most famous clucker of his day and certainly the most famous gas-station owner in Mount Holly, might have had the leather-lunged capability of shouting creepy racist, anti-Semitic, anti-feminist stuff until his face was so red that he looked like he was going to stroke out, but he also always looked like one good shot to the head with a beer bottle would shut him up.
Glenn Miller, on the other hand, looked like one good shot to the head with a beer bottle would just piss him off.
He scared the bejesus out of me the one time I talked to him, and I was very glad that there were uniformed law enforcement personnel around. For those of you not from around here, Miller took part in the 1979 Klan-Nazi killings here in Greensboro in which five Communist Workers Party members were killed but no one went to prison. I don’t recall now whether the evidence ever put his finger on a trigger, but that doesn’t matter, because when I met him I didn’t know that history. All I knew was that the guy in front of me was both capable of great aggression and batshit insane, that to him shooting me would be like stepping on an ant.
But the greater issue is that although he’s being charged with murder and hate crimes, both the media and law enforcement have stopped short of calling what he is charged with doing “terrorism.” There’s some history in that that predates even 9/11.
America’s long campaign of lynching African Americans, for any reason or no reason at all, as a de facto legal mechanism of social control, was terrorism, but show me five high schools in the U.S. today that teach it as such. And, of course, post-9/11, “terrorism” became “that which those brown Mooooslims do to hurt us.” No word about Timothy McVeigh. No word about Eric Rudolph. No word about Scott Roeder or James Kopp. And now we’re not using the “t-word” with respect to Glenn Miller. But the fact is that the only meaningful difference between those guys and Osama bin Laden was that bin Laden killed more people.
Law enforcement and the media need to start calling this what it is, and dealing with it accordingly.
And John Boehner, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham and their ilk need to sit their asses down and drink a liter mug of STFU, because Janet Napolitano was right and you bitches were wrong. And all this whining in the media about the “deadliest assembly of al-Qaeda in the history of, like, ever” needs to stop ignoring the terrorists already in the open in our midst, some of them holding responsible positions in one of our nation’s two major parties.
I think we ain’t, but it looks like we’ll know soon enough, because the leak even I could see coming is here:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.
The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.
Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:
_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
So, in plain English:
So CIA personnel ordered and committed hanging offenses and lied to everybody about it. That’s the bottom line, folks. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing.
Let’s be very clear about what needs to happen here:
If these things do not happen, then we are not a nation under the rule of law, plain and simple. I wish I could say that we are, but experience suggests that nothing will happen.
So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s put paid, once and for all, to this notion of American exceptionalism. We are not special. We are not a shining city on a hill. We are not a Christian nation in any way that Christ Himself would recognize. We are not even, to judge by both legal standards and OECD measures for quality of life, a particularly good example.
It is tempting to say that we are governed by a parliament of whores, but to do so would insult whores, who generally are not nearly as hypocritical about what they do as our leaders are. We are a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an outlaw nation, and the only differences between our genocide and that of the Nazis is that ours was less recent and less efficient. Indeed, it was ironic for me to read tonight on Facebook about my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman honoring the congressional service of my friend Howard Coble, when Coble, a former federal prosecutor, did nothing to stop precisely the kind of behavior on the part of Americans that got Nazis hanged at Nuremberg.
I’d love to be proved wrong on this. I really, really would. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna. And Americans need to understand that and to plan their futures accordingly.
Torture is a stain on this nation’s honor that can be bleached away only by full exposure.
To that I would add this: “Full exposure” means not only making the CIA report public in its entirety; that’s a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition.
It also means holding accountable those who were responsible, and I don’t mean some poor E-2 working third-shift guard duty. I mean the people who planned and carried out the torture program: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the functionaries like Jim Haynes and John Yoo who fabricated the “legal” justification for that for which there is no justification, moral or legal.
And if that means some of them hang, well, I’ve always been tough on crime, so I’ll sleep fine.
In fact, I’ll sleep better.
The recently returned Ed Cone on transparency in the city of Greensboro’s dealings with nonprofits it funds:
I don’t understand the arguments against [City Council member] Tony Wilkins’ request for more transparency into executive compensation at non-profits that receive money from the City. I know the City already gets reports on total salaries for these organizations, and that it’s easy enough to access individual salary info that’s already public via IRS form 990. I just don’t see how those facts make the request for further data unreasonable.
Other than “because they can,” I’ve never understood why government agencies and tax-exempt organizations don’t behave completely transparently rather than just, at best, complying with the letter of the law.
Pro tip, guys: You’re in positions of public trust, which you get to receive only as long as you earn it. And you earn it through transparency, full stop. Some people seeking that transparency might be obnoxious, but that doesn’t make this point a whit less valid.
From today’s News & Record print and e-edition (but apparently not from the website, so probably paywalled):
Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday asked for more belt-tightening within state government as a pre-emptive move to protect the state from a Medicaid shortfall and a fuzzy revenue picture.
In a memorandum to state agencies and their leaders, McCrory said that while the state’s fiscal picture is much improved compared with “a year ago, “the state still needs to exercise restraint for the remainder of the fiscal year,” ending June 30. He wrote a similar directive in March 2013.
McCrory’s state budget office projected this week that Medicaid expenditures could be up to $140 million above the amount the General Assembly authorized.
First of all, “McCrory’s state budget office” is budget director Art Pope, the real governor. McCrory’s just the cabin boy.
Second, so the state might need to spend $140 million above what’s been authorized. Gee. Whocouldaknowed? And if only there some way the state could do something about that without eliminating raises for hard-working state employees, who have seen damn little in the way of raises since the Crash of ’08. There ought to be something we could do, y’know. Hmm. What could it be? And why didn’t the AP and/or the News & Record point that out?
But we continue:
While revenue projections are largely on track to cover this year’s budget, “there is revenue uncertainty for the remainder” of the year, McCrory wrote.
Stop right there, bubba. Both of those things cannot be true simultaneously. McCrory, by whom I mean Pope, is just flat-out lying here and hoping no one will notice. Certainly the AP and the News & Record didn’t.
He also ordered his Cabinet-level agencies to discontinue most salary increases, limit purchases, reduce travel expenditures and reconsider contract work.
Translation: Basically, we’re not just going to screw up Medicaid, we’re going to screw up every other agency, too.
Jesus wept. What they’re doing (and refusing to do that could help) is bad enough. And the news media are giving them a free pass on top of that.
Dear Merciful God, I’ve had a pretty good life, all in all, and so I haven’t asked you for much. And much of what I have asked for, you’ve delivered. But even though you did my family and me quite a solid just today, I’m asking this: Please let Roy Cooper, or some other competent Democrat, run against McCrory in 2016 and whip him like a rented mule. I mean, whip him so badly he needs skin grafts to close all the bloody welts on his ass.
Now, Lord, I grant that’s pretty harsh. But your own son took a brutal flogging en route to saving humankind. Meanwhile, thousands of North Carolinians are doing without health insurance, and thus health care, who wouldn’t have to except that Pat McCrory and Art Pople hate the non-white guy in the White House. And a nontrivial number of those North Carolinians, research shows, are likely to die prematurely because McCrory and Pope are petty, racist sociopaths. So I figured that taking a beating like that wouldn’t fix the damage McCrory will do between now and January 2017. But it might make a lot of suffering people feel a little better and prevent a boatload more suffering in the future.
So if it wouldn’t be too much trouble …
So, Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has been arrested and indicted on corruption charges, including theft and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud and extortion under color of official right. For selling his office — before becoming mayor, Cannon had been mayor pro tem and a City Council member — received a total of $68,000 in cash, plus airline tickets, a hotel room, and use of a luxury apartment.
The three charges, which came after a 3 1/2-year undercover sting operation in which FBI agents posed as real-estate developers and allegedly bribed Cannon to use his office to do them favors, carry a combined maximum of 50 years in prison. Assuming Cannon is guilty on all counts, he still won’t do anything like 50, but he’ll do quite a number of years. And it won’t be in Alcatraz, but it won’t be in Club Fed, either. He also could be fined up to $1.5 million, which, for him, is years’ and years’ worth of income.
Meanwhile, retired Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and the bank itself settled a civil lawsuit today with the New York attorney general’s office that had alleged securities fraud. Specifically, Lewis and the bank were accused of deceiving BoA stockholders about what crappy shape Merrill Lynch was in when the bank asked stockholders to approve a takeover of Merrill in December 2008. This transaction played a nontrivial role in blowing up the economy, although that demolition was well under way when the sale closed on Jan. 1, 2009.
Neither Lewis nor the bank is required by the settlement to admit any wrongdoing. The bank will have to pay $15 million. Lewis himself will have to pay $10 million, although that’s the equivalent of zero days’ worth of income for him because the bank will pay it for him. Given the bank’s net earnings of $4.2 billion in 2012 (the 2013 annual report is due out any day), those fines amount to about two days’ profits, give or take. That’ll certainly warn all the other banks not to screw their shareholders, I think.
Oh, and Lewis is personally barred for three years from serving as an officer or director for any publicly traded company. Which is really going to cramp his style because he’s, you know, retired.
What have we learned from this experience?
We’ve got one set of rules for banksters, and another set for everybody else, including mayors of major cities, you, and me.
There is a club. You and I are not in it.
With Wall Street’s demand for mortgages unending and some loan producers managing to book up to 70 loans per day, the system didn’t just crash. It was brought down.
But we’ve also been made to understand that subprime lenders and their Wall Street funders didn’t act alone. Instead, they were aided by the avarice of the American people, who were not victims of the crash so much as accomplices in it. Respondents to aRasmussen poll done during the throes of the crisis overwhelmingly blamed “individuals who borrowed more than they could afford” (54 percent) over Wall Street (25 percent). To this day, the view is widespread and bipartisan: Main Street was an essential cause of the meltdown. The enemy was us.
“It all goes back to the increase in the tolerance for debt,” David Brooks wrote a couple of years ago. …
One of so many instances in which Brooks has been flat wrong on the facts without professional consequence. But I digress.
Is that not the truth?
Actually: No, it’s not. The notion that American consumers share the blame for the mortgage crisis is a lie. And it is one of the most pernicious out there.
Everyone-Is-To-Blame (or EITB, for brevity’s sake) has done much to mute the public outcry essential for sweeping efforts to respond to the financial catastrophe. To the extent that Dodd-Frank fell short of the root-and-branch reform that followed the last great crash in 1929, EITB is to blame. The fact that banks too big to fail before the crisis have been allowed to grow to twice their pre-bubble sizes can be traced to a nagging sense that they didn’t act alone. And if you wonder why, six years after the fact, no significant Wall Street figure has been criminally prosecuted, I would suggest that EITB has muddied perceptions just enough to allow the administration to sidestep the necessary legal mobilization. If everyone is to blame, then criminal indictments of individual executives can be framed as exercises in scapegoating.
Everyone-is-to-blame did its worst damage to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, an effort rolled out in the immediate aftermath of the crisis to reduce borrowers’ monthly payments through refinancing or principal write-downs. It was the mere idea of HAMP that set off Rick Santelli on his 2009 rant about “losers’ mortgages” and their “extra bathroom,” sparking the Tea Party revolt. The prospect of helping delinquent borrowers, while others paid theirs on time, unleashed a flood ofressentiment that filled the Congressional Record with denunciations of “irresponsible” actors who “lied” only to wind up in line for “gift equity,” and “tax-payer subsidized windfall.” Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the concept of “happy-go-lucky borrowers” and “cagey borrowers.” Jim Bunning, then Kentucky’s junior senator, felt compelled to warn against helping homeowners “who made bad decisions.” The outpouring tapped into a sentiment powerful enough to silence even some liberals and turned hamp into a political disaster for the Obama administration. Left adrift, the program went from a potential lifeline for borrowers to a fee-machine for servicers and a Kafkaesque nightmare for those it was supposed to help.
As an agent of obfuscation, EITB is a gift that keeps on giving. In October, The Washington Post’s editorial board objected to a $13 billion mortgage-era civil settlement with J.P. Morgan largely because it unfairly singled out the bank, when, in fact, “everyone, from Wall Street to Main Street to Washington, acted on widely held economic beliefs that turned out not to be true.” A forthcoming book by Bob Ivry, a Polk Award–winning investigative reporter for Bloomberg News (and, full disclosure, a friend), eloquently inveighs against big banks and their Washington lackeys, but also includes this assertion: “In the years leading up to the Great Bubble-Burst of 2008, everybody got a chance to cash in. … If you wanted to buy a place to live, you could get more house than you ever dreamed. You could use your rising home equity for the Disney vacation, the power boat, the fourth bedroom or the college education.” …
True. But that’s not the same thing as mortgage fraud, which, though not trivial, was an incredibly small part of the total problem:
In 2010, an FBI report drawing on figures from the consultancy Corelogic put total fraudulent mortgages during the peak boom year of 2006 at more than $25 billion. Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously not nothing. But here again, teasing those mortgages out of that year’s crisis-related write-downs of $2.7 trillion from U.S.-originated assets leaves our infamous “cagey” borrowers to blame for only a tiny share of the damage, especially since not all of the fraudulent mortgages were their fault. The ratio looks roughly something like this:
Yes, some of our cab drivers, shoeshine boys, and other fellow citizens tricked a lender into helping them take a flyer on the housing market. But the combined share of the blame for bad mortgages that can be placed on the public sits—and I’m really rounding up here—in the high single digits, and not the much larger, fuzzier numbers in our heads.
The fact is that defrauding a bank that actually cares about the quality of a loan is actually rather difficult, no matter how aggressive or deceitful the borrower. Lenders, on the other hand, can lie with relative ease about all sorts of things, and mountains of evidence show they did so on a widespread basis. For starters, it’s lenders who establish the loan-to-value ratio for a property: how much money the buyer is borrowing versus the house’s estimated worth. Banks didn’t used to let you take out a mortgage too close to the home’s total cost. But play with those numbers and, voilà, a rejected loan application turns into an accepted one. Leading up to the crash, some banks’ representations about loan-to-value ratios were off by as much as 40 percentage points.
Then there was the apparent rampant corruption of appraisals, which also have nothing whatsoever to do with borrowers. Before the bubble popped, appraisers’ groups collected 11,000 signatures on a petition decrying pressure by banks to arrive at “dishonest” or inflated valuations.
And that’s to say nothing of lenders misleading borrowers directly—a practice that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the Levin-Coburn report, and lawsuits by attorneys general around the country have all found was very much systemic. Mortgage brokers forged borrowers’ signatures and altered documents; Ameriquest (those guys again!) had its own “art department,” as it was known internally, for precisely that function. Oh, and remember those 137,000 instances of “suspicious activity” about possible borrower misdeeds? For the sake of perspective, Citigroup settled a Federal Trade Commission case alleging sales deception that involved two million clients in a single year. That’s what we call wholesale, and it was happening before the mortgage era even really got started.
Today, there’s a big and growing body of documentation about what happened as the financial system became incentivized to sell as many loans as possible on the most burdensome possible terms: Millions—and millions—of borrowers were sold subprime despite qualifying for better.
Perhaps the most astonishing and unappreciated finding comes from The Wall Street Journal, which back in December 2007 published a study of more than $2.5 trillion in subprime loans dating to 2000 (that is to say, most of the subprime loans of the era). The story, by my former colleagues Rick Brooks* and Ruth Simon, painted the picture of a world gone upside-down: During the worst years of the frenzy, more than half the subprime loans issued went to borrowers who had credit scores “high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.” In 2006, the figure hit 61 percent. Along with its article, the Journal illustrated the alarming trend line with a version of the following graphic:
It goes without saying that no one would voluntarily eschew a prime loan for subprime—subprime is called that for a reason, carrying higher, often escalating rates; pre-payment penalties that “shut the backdoor” by precluding refinancing; and other burdens tacked on for good measure. The Journal concluded that its analysis “raises pointed questions about the practices of major mortgage lenders.” That’s putting it mildly!
He goes on to suggest some reasons why Everybody Is To Blame is such a popular world view. But what he keeps coming back to, what we must keep coming back to, is that it is wrong. If you actually look at the numbers — you know, like bankers are supposed to do — you consistently find that the overwhelming majority of the financial damage was caused by the banks, often through unethical and sometimes even illegal means.
Even so, today, we refuse to punish those responsible. If there’s Blame to be laid at the feet of Everybody, this is it. Charlie Pierce is fond of saying that for all Occupy Wall Street’s many foibles, gaffes and mistakes, it at least got people shouting at the right buildings — i.e., corporations rather than government, and the big banks in particular. Unfortunately, some of the country’s top journalists and pundits still get it wrong, and they and the lawmakers on the take form a daisy chain that keeps anything substantive from happening, not only to punish those who were responsible last time but also to do what it takes keep something like this from happening again.
It’s not Everybody’s fault. Everybody is NOT to Blame. The banks and their executives and boards are to blame. And part of citizenship in a constitutional republic is to hold them to account.
*Disclosure: Rick Brooks worked with me at the N&R in the early 1990s.
Richard Mayhew, Balloon Juice’s resident health-insurance guru, on firearm safety:
When I learned how to shoot, I was taught the following three things:
- Only point a weapon at something or someone that you intend to kill
- Always assume a weapon is loaded, and the safety is off.
- You are always responsible for your weapon until the weapon is in the armory’s gun safe.
Can we incorporate these basic assumptions into civil law where the assumption is that any discharge (intentional or accidental) is the responsibility of the owner of the weapon and therefore the owner is liable for whatever damage a bullet fired from his weapon causes. Liability would follow even stolen weapons if reasonable efforts to secure the weapon were not made. …
There have been attempts to regulate firearms as a consumer protection issue, but the NRA is too strong. This proposal moves responsibility down the chain to the individual owner instead of the manufacturer.
Which is exactly where it should be. Hello, personal responsibility.
The rational response of creating the assumption that the weapon owner is liable absent extraordinary circumstances instead of the current assumption that [expletive] happens is for responsible owners to buy insurance to cover their liability. Speaking as an insurance company bureaucrat, I would assume insurance companies would offer good rates to individuals who own longarms instead of handguns, who have a gun safe, who have trigger locks, who have gone to safety classes and who have otherwise demonstrated that they actually are reasonably likely to be safe.
Individuals who think “tactical” masturbatory fantasies are reality and believe that everyone should have a loaded pistol in their unlocked night stand even if they have two pre-kindergarteners in the house would probably be rated as high risk for negligent discharge. Individuals who have more weapons than fingers would probably be rated as risky. Individuals who have a history of accidental discharge would be rated as risky.
I’m not a fan of using liberterianish policy making as a first best choice, but my political judgement is that this type of regulation is the only viable away forward right now. And going back to my health policy wonkery, reducing gun woundings means lower trauma costs, and lower recovery costs to cover.
I’m sure the NRA as an organization would fight this tooth and nail, of course. But I think it would be instructive to see the number of “personal responsibility” conservatives and libertarians and the number of so-called responsible gun owners who would fight it as well. I’d be delighted to be proved badly wrong on this, but I suspect that well more than half of American gun owners, if polled, would oppose this measure even if the reasons and benefits were explained carefully to them.
Because for way too many American gun owners, it’s not about rights and responsibilities, it’s about I want what I want and [expletive] you. I saw that attitude over and over and over again while covering cops (not from cops, but from many of the people with whom they interacted), and that’s why I say this: Whatever else it is, the American gun-owning public is in no way, shape or form a well-regulated militia.
Time after time, in case after case in the So-Called War on Terror, we have seen the government invoke “state secrets,” as a means of denying defendants access to potentially exculpatory information in the government’s possession or as a means of denying civil plaintiffs access to information that would strengthen their own case at the government’s expense. As a result, some potentially innocent people have remained in custody for years, in many cases without trial or even charge. As a result, some meritorious lawsuits against government overreach have been tossed.
As a result, the country has both weakened and betrayed its own values. That’s bad enough.
But now? We come to find that for seven years, the government has been invoking “state secrets” to cover up a simple, understandable, and easy-to-fix paperwork error, albeit one with significant consequences. That error, compounded by the massive cover-up on the part of high-ranking officials in both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, particularly Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder, kept an innocent woman named Rahinah Ibrahim on the U.S. government’s no-fly list for that period. For much of that period, the defense was invoked merely to prevent her from learning whether she was even on the list, let alone being able to do something about it.
Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.
“Under this policy, the Department of Justice will defend an assertion of the state secrets privilege in litigation, and seek dismissal of a claim on that basis, only when necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security,” reads an April signed declaration from the attorney general to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who presided over the Ibrahim litigation in San Francisco.
The state secrets privilege was first upheld by the Supreme Court in a McCarthy-era case and generally requires judges to dismiss lawsuits against the United States when the government asserts a trial threatens national security.
In his declaration, Holder assured Judge Alsup that the government would not be claiming national security to conceal “administrative error” or to “prevent embarrassment” — an assertion that is now nearly impossible to square with the facts.
Way I read that, “now nearly impossible to square with the facts” means “a stone lie.”
Finally, her case was allowed to come to trial, a month before which the presiding judge, during a pretrial conference, told lawyers, “I feel like I have been had by the government.”
Time was, lawyers who intentionally misled judges suffered serious consequences to their cases, if not to themselves personally. As it was, after a five-day nonjury trial, the judge ruled for Ibrahim.
Here’s my question: If the government would illegally invoke “state secrets” for seven years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, to cover up a bloody paperwork error, what else is it covering up under the “state secrets” defense? Prosecution and/or punishment of innocent people? Ongoing torture? Extrajudicial assassinations? Massive waste, fraud and abuse in the national intelligence apparatus? At this point you’d have to be an idiot to bet on anything except all these and more.
Classification of material to cover up evidence of a crime is, itself, a federal crime. And it’s one with which not nearly enough people have been charged. But beyond that, judges who get played by the government this way should, when they figure out what’s going on, bring the gavel down on the government officials and lawyers involved so viciously that a century from now such officials and lawyers will speak of it only behind closed doors, with hushed voices, in the dark of night, the elderly cautioning the young.
Oh, stuff like this:
In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”
Later that year, Schmidt instructed his Sr VP for Business Operation Shona Brown to keep the pact a secret and only share information “verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?”
These secret conversations and agreements between some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley were first exposed in a Department of Justice antitrust investigation launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. That DOJ suit became the basis of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered — an estimated $9 billion effectively stolen by the high-flying companies from their workers to pad company earnings — in the second half of the 2000s. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied attempts by Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe to have the lawsuit tossed, and gave final approval for the class action suit to go forward. A jury trial date has been set for May 27 in San Jose, before US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the Samsung-Apple patent suit.
In a related but separate investigation and ongoing suit, eBay and its former CEO Meg Whitman, now CEO of HP, are being sued by both the federal government and the state of California for arranging a similar, secret wage-theft agreement with Intuit (and possibly Google as well) during the same period.
The secret wage-theft agreements between Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar (now owned by Disney) are described in court papers obtained by PandoDaily as “an overarching conspiracy” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, and at times it reads like something lifted straight out of the robber baron era that produced those laws. Today’s inequality crisis is America’s worst on record since statistics were first recorded a hundred years ago — the only comparison would be to the era of the railroad tycoons in the late 19th century.
I’m delighted that the class-action lawsuit is going forward. But I still see two huge problems:
Nothing is going to stop this crap until rich and famous corporate executives start getting frog-marched around in orange jumpsuits on live TV before being locked away long enough for all their tech knowledge to become worthless, along with most of their teeth.
Esquire’s Charlie Pierce with a thought experiment:
Imagine if there were three terrorist events in two weeks. First, terrorists poison a state’s water supply. Then, they rig a building to collapse and rig another one hundreds of miles away to explode. Nervous politicians would be blue-pencilling the Bill of Rights by daybreak. The NSA would throw a parade for itself. Edward Snowden would be hung in effigy, if we couldn’t do it in person. Somebody’s ass would get droned in Waziristan.
Sounds about right.
But in the past two weeks, we have seen West Virginia’s water supply be poisoned by a
Koch Bros.-owned chemical plant (CORRECTION: As Roch notes below, the Kochs sold the plant Dec. 31, nine days before the leak), which promptly filed for bankruptcy protection so that the families who are harmed will have to be compensated by the state if they get compensated at all. Then we have the building collapse in Nebraska and the explosion in Oklahoma. And those events happened in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 others and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings. What do these things have in common? Freedom! The dead hand of government regulation has been removed, by fiat or via lack of enforcement, so that these companies could kill Americans without significantly harming their owners’ bottom lines.
At Cogitamus.com, the Low-Tech Cyclist says:
I keep on waiting for the Democratic Party to get a clue about this: to say after the latest such disaster, “This is why we regulate, [expletive] — this is why we need the regulations, and why we need enough Federal inspectors out in the field to make sure they’re followed. Because otherwise, they’ll poison our food, dump chemicals in our rivers, steal your wages, and make you work in places that could blow up.”
But Dems at the state and federal levels seem almost as in thrall to industry as their GOP brethren and sistren, so we’re all screwed. Pierce concludes:
(Forklift operator) Kendrick Houston was brave enough to go back into the fire (in Omaha). Yet too many of our politicians, local and national, don’t have the simple stones to stand up to a corporate class that has come to represent nothing but death and pillage. But they will show up at the funerals, boy. They will do that, and they will talk about the indomitable spirit of American individualism, through which people will run back into the fire, and then they will go out onto the stump next fall and talk about how the dead hand of government regulation is stifling that same spirit, and that freedom demands more victims. The American Dream becomes the province of the dead, Moloch with stock options, and that is the country today, where things fall down and things blow up and almost nothing ever changes.
The Republicans got the Congress back in 1994 in part by using language to frame the terms of the debate and even to describe their opponents as outlined in the now-famous document “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” So is it excessive to, as Low-Tech Cyclist does, call our plutocrat class “terrorists”? I think not — if the poison-tipped jackboot fits, wear it — but even then, they do what they do because we allow our legislators to let them. This, among many, many other reasons, is why voting matters and why electing people to office who believe that government can and should do its job, not those who are bent on dismantling what remains of government, is so important.
Some of our most vicious terrorists are home-grown, and it’s time they did time. But in addition, and better, it’s time we prevented them from getting in the way of what’s needed to keep our food, water, drugs, cosmetics, workplaces, and so on, safe. Because the free market doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you live or die. If you doubt me, you can just go to West, Texas, or even just down to Hamlet and ask.
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