Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, March 20, 2015 5:17 pm

“What’s the recourse if you make a mistake?” redux; or, shouting Cameron Todd Willingham’s name from the rooftops

More than five years ago, I wrote about the Texas murder case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was facing the death penalty (and later was executed) for the arson murder of his three daughters. Now, misconduct charges have been filed against the prosecutor in the case.

A disciplinary petition in Navarro County, Texas, accuses then-prosecutor John Jackson of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense:

“Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel,” the [State Bar of Texas] investigators charged. …

The bar action was filed March 5 without any public announcement. It accuses Jackson of having intervened repeatedly to help a jailhouse informant, Johnny E. Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham confessed the murders to him while they were both jailed in Corsicana, the Navarro County seat.

Webb has since recanted that testimony. In a series of recent interviews, he told the Marshall Project that Jackson coerced him to lie, threatening a long prison term for a robbery to which Webb ultimately pleaded guilty, but promising to reduce his sentence if he testified against Willingham.

The ironic thing is that Jackson told the New Yorker while Willingham was still alive that he personally opposes the death penalty. “What’s the recourse if you make a mistake?” he rhetorically asked an interviewer. Perhaps he’s about to find out, although he’s seeking a jury trial on his misconduct charges and I agree with him that it’s quite possible no Texas jury will vote to convict a prosecutor.

But even if he is convicted on all charges, what’s the worst that happens? He loses his law license. He gets fined. He quite possibly doesn’t spend a single day in jail. Frankly, next to executing an innocent man, that seems like pretty small beer.

So if we’re going to continue to have a death penalty — and I remain devoted to it in principle — then there needs to be a serious, serious penalty for prosecutorial misconduct in criminal cases. As I wrote in 2009:

The practical part of me thinks that it would be much the easiest choice simply to end capital punishment, making the maximum sentence life without parole. It would save dramatically on legal expenses for both states and defendants, it would cut the appeal time, it would bring cases to closure more quickly (which would be easier on victims’ families) and it would erase the possibility of the state’s making the one mistake it cannot unmake.

And yet philosophically I still believe there is value, in the cases of the most heinous murder cases, in an eye for an eye. I believe that on an emotional level that, after almost 50 years on this planet, I doubt fact and logic will ever change. But I also feel obliged to suggest a possible solution to the conundrum.

So here’s what I’ve come up with:

If it ever can be shown that the state has wrongfully executed an innocent person even though a fair exculpatory case existed before the execution, then we also should put to death the prosecutor and judge in the case. If a parole board ever commits the kind of dereliction of duty displayed in Willingham’s case with the result that an innocent person is executed, the board members who voted for execution should be put to death. If a governor can be shown to have denied clemency to an innocent prisoner even in the face of exculpatory evidence, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry appears to have done, the governor should be put to death.

Then and only then, my friends, will we know that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

It was true five years ago. It is true today. And I pray for John Jackson’s soul as I pray for the late Cameron Todd Willingham’s.

 

 

Friday, March 13, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for March 13

Charlie Pierce at Esquire has written the best big-picture analysis of what the GOP is up to that I’ve seen anywhere. They really don’t want a United States as you and I think of it. Dana Milbank at The Washington Post also addressed this issue, but largely in silly fashion.

For the record, after re-reading the Logan Act, I have changed my mind: I now think the 47 senators who signed that letter to Iran violated it. No, Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Assad doesn’t count because a bunch of Republican congresscritters also visited Assad just days before and after she did. No, the Democrats’ 1984 letter to the Nicaraguan government doesn’t count because basically all they did was ask for free elections, which the Reagan administration also wanted, or said it did. I realize nothing will happen to the 47 (and that Obama would be impeached immediately if his Justice Department made any moves in that direction), but this is worth documenting as another case in which Republicans broke the law and got away with it.

Did Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor and likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016, totally pull a story out of his rear end about having been anointed by Nancy Reagan to carry on in the spirit of the Gipper? Signs point to yes.

North Carolina is going to start issuing fracking permits on Tuesday. Not only do we not have, as promised, the best air-quality regulations in the nation regarding fracking, we don’t have any air-quality regulations regarding fracking at all. Your Republican state government at work, folks. And if they don’t care about the air, what makes you think they give a damn about your water?

The N.C. Senate officially doesn’t give a damn about at-risk kids in the state’s public schools. Ending the requirement for an individual education plan means nothing specific will be required to happen for any particular student and no one will be held accountable when it doesn’t. This doesn’t end the federally-required Individual Education Plans for special-needs students, but I’m sure Richard Burr, Thom Tillis and Mark Walker are working on that.

The N.C. GOP says it’s gonna start listening to people. That’s a laugh. If they wanted to listen to people, they could start by killing SB36 and SB181, the unsolicited, unnecessary, not-at-all-an-attempt-to-dilute-Democratic-voting-strength efforts to redistrict the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County commissioners, respectively.

So Florida has banned the use of the phrases “global warming” and “climate change” in state documents? Pikers. North Carolina did that years ago.

You can’t make this up: Indiana State Rep. Justin Moed, a Democrat, got caught sexting … with the same woman Anthony Weiner got caught sexting with.

This is cool, and I did not know about it before: In March 1944, in blatant violation of Jim Crow laws in force at the time, Duke University’s (white) basketball team played the team from N.C. College for Negroes (now N.C. Central University). And the Eagles gave the Blue Devils a righteous ass-whipping.

Tomorrow, 3/14/15, is Pi Day, so at 9:26:54 a.m. and p.m., you should eat pie. Just because. Also, no doubt to your vast relief, you can stop trying to square the circle; pi says it’s impossible.

 

Friday, March 6, 2015 8:11 pm

Odds and ends for March 6

America has a cop violence problem. And, as is so often the case with America, we have to admit we have a problem before we can fix it.

One of the reasons you don’t order people to commit war crimes is because of the damage it does to those who must carry out those orders … as Israel is now finding out.

The Republican National Committee is only allowing “conservative” news outlets and personalities to cover the 2012 GOP primary debates. Of course, with that clown car, “conservative” probably means “batshit.”

Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris might just be the worst person you’ll read about all year.

When the UNC Board of Governors met in closed session to fire Tom Ross, they voted for a resolution that they wouldn’t talk about the firing and would refer all questions to board chair John Fennebresque, who appears to have gotten his P.R. degree from the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Only one board member voted against the resolution: Greensboro’s Marty Kotis. Thank you, Marty.

As the GOP Klown Kar of batshit presidential candidates barrels down the road, one of the Klowns, Ben Carson, is named to speak at the Pope-Civitas Institute’s Conservative Leadership Conference. You may know Carson from such hits as “People go into prison straight and come out gay” and, “No, really, fellow Republicans, I am NOT crazy.”

Not content with screwing with Greensboro’s City Council districts, state Senate Republicans are now mucking with the Wake County Commissioners’ districts in the wake of a throw-the-bums-out election in November in which a Democratic slate sent a bunch of GOP incumbents packing. Coincidence? Like Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidence. (Full disclosure: One of those Dems, John Burns, is an online friend of mine and fellow Davidson grad to whom I have given campaign contributions, and I’ve got two sibs who live and pay taxes in Wake County.)

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin recently told the legislature that the state’s courts are in very bad shape and need $30 million to fix. (Hell, their computer system was antiquated back when I was still a reporter, and that was six years ago.) So Gov. Pat McCrory’s new budget? Provides only $6 million in new money.

Former UNC offensive lineman Ryan Hoffman is living on the street, plagued by problems that might well be the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — brain injuries — from playing football. Ironically, some of the most cutting-edge research on CTE and brain injuries is being carried out at UNC. Here’s hoping they can help the player they once exploited.

 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 9:21 pm

Odds and ends for March 4

As my cat might say: OHAI. I haz had a gone. Now I haz a back.

Hey, we finally got a clean bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security open! Now was that so hard, John Boehner? (Or maybe it was, but, anyway, it’s always good to see Republicans eating their own.)

Just a thought, courtesy of Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.: Saudi Arabia has the fourth-largest military in the world, so explain to me why U.S. troops are obligated to fight ISIS?

Ben Carson, a doctor whom some carbon-based life forms want to be president, believes that prison turns straight people gay because they choose to be. Or something equally insane; I’m not sure. The derp got too thick to read through.

The Supremes heard arguments today in King v. Burwell, the case that supposedly is going to explode Obamacare. Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t quite tear plaintiffs a new one, but he sure seemed sympathetic to the government’s case — and hospital stock prices rose accordingly.

The idiots on the Alabama Supreme Court have decided that the federal judiciary is not the boss of them regarding same-sex marriage. We had this discussion about which court is the boss of which already. In 1860. Spoiler: It ended poorly for Alabama.

Perhaps no major American pundit has been more loudly and frequently wrong than David Brooks, so Flying Spaghetti Monster bless the blogger Driftglass, whose chronicles of Brooks’s unpunished and deadly wrongness will be essential reading in journalism courses a century from now. This is just one tasty example.

There is a club. You and I are not in it.

There’s gonna be a NASCAR race this year called the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. I am absolutely not making this up. As Ed Thomas says on Facebook, it’ll be interesting to see how they dry the track when it rains.

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 7:06 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 17,

Seasalt & Co. offers a grade-A example of how not to do corporate communications. Pro tip: Threatening to sue people for what they say about your marketing materials is never a good idea.

President Obama’s executive action on immigration is on hold while a lawsuit against it by a number of states proceeds. IANAL, but from what I could tell, this looked legal to me — and not horribly different from what Reagan did 30 years ago. A district judge thinks there are tryable issues of fact and/or law, but his opinion reads like a long string of GOP talking points and judicial activism, not a finding of fact and determination of law, so we’ll see.

N.C. gets a winter storm, and Transportation Secretary Tony Tata is … promoting a book on cable news. In fairness, 1) It hasn’t been THAT bad as storms go, 2) the Highway Patrol, local police, and local and state emergency-management are probably up to the job without Tony’s help, and 3) his appearance probably was scheduled well before we knew the storm was coming. But the optics aren’t very good.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has extended its no-bid contract with a D.C. consulting firm to roughly $8 million. The firm made a $12,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association in 2012 that found its way into now-Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2012 campaign. DHHS still hasn’t fixed its long string of problems, however.

N.C. state taxpayers should be glad the state’s business-incentive program doesn’t like to bet the ponies. We’d go broke fast.

Chapel Hill triple-homicide suspect Craig Stephen Hicks has been indicted on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of shooting a firearm into an occupied dwelling, a felony. The death penalty remains a possibility, although the DA hasn’t indicated whether he’ll seek it.

N.C. State Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, was the only legislator to go to work during today’s snow day in Raleigh. To judge from his Twitter feed, he got an AMAZING amount of work done; I’ve Storified the relevant tweets here.

Monday, February 16, 2015 7:34 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 16

Greetings from — well, not Snowmageddeon; I guess that’d be Massachusetts.

In the words of my friend Joe Killian, go home, N.C. Ethics Commission. You’re drunk.

If they ever remake “The Breakfast Club,” I’ve found the guy who can play the principal. He’s a principal.

It’s looking less likely now, but if SCOTUS rules against the government on Obamacare in King v. Burwell, insurance exec Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice has a legislative fix, short and satisfying.

In the sentencing of three white men convicted of killing a black man, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, only the second African American to serve on the federal bench in Mississippi, gave a smackdown for the ages.

Probably not for the first time, the state of Texas is set to execute an innocent man.

It’s her funeral and we’ll cry if we want to: Singer Leslie Lesley Gore is dead at 68.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:28 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 10

Terrorists are winning the war on terror, primarily because, more than a decade after 9/11 and despite all the costly lessons we’ve learned since then, the U.S. persists in playing the terrorists’ game instead of its own.

Dean Smith‘s public memorial will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smith Center. Which leads me to wonder: Where will they hold Billy Graham‘s, once he passes on? Bank of America Stadium? Charlotte Motor Speedway? The National Mall?

There’s just one teeny-weeny little problem with the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court that could, perhaps, lead to the Affordable Care Act’s being struck down: None of the four appears to have standing to be suing in the first place.

Could the hammer at long last be coming down on rogue Swiss(-ish) bank HSBC? I’ll believe it when/if it happens, but the Honorable Senator Professor Warren is on this like white on rice. (And just how rogue? Check this out.)

Jim Crow lynchings: significantly more common than previously reported.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but I could tell in 11th grade U.S. history that “right-to-work” was Orwellian doublespeak. Unfortunately, that ain’t all it is.

Debtors’ jail, ostensibly illegal in the U.S., apparently is alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri. A lawsuit seeks to change that.

“Trials” at Guantanamo: No, Casey, nobody here can play this game.

If you’ve never worked in newspapers, you probably thought newspaper executive editors couldn’t get any stupider, and that if they did, it wasn’t your fault as a reader. You were wrong, as Robert Price of the Bakersfield Californian is pleased to demonstrate:

Several weeks ago, [director of audience development] Louis [Amestoy] and I introduced a set of new expectations for reporters and editors. Chief among them was that reporters and editors shall write publishable content every single day. Not blow-out, eight-source 30-inchers (although they have their place), but quick-hit 4-inchers based on as few as a one source or even personal observation — “what I saw driving in to work” stories. So far I have seen almost none of these.

These are required and will be measured on your annual reviews (which are coming up). Please think about how you might start creating these. If you’re like me, you may think some stories (weather related, seen on a business marquee, etc) just don’t clear the bar of importance. Not true, in most cases. Readers gobble this stuff up. [emphasis added; along with the unmistakable sound of Our Lord and Savior weeping bitterly]

#StealAlltheGrammys According to Google, Annie Lennox, Kristen Wiig, Prince (“almost”), Kanye West, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams’s funky park ranger hat, among others, “stole the Grammys.” Thought you’d want to know.

 

 

Saturday, February 7, 2015 11:11 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 7

“Pro-life” Sen. Richard Burr doesn’t really give a rat’s ass if you or your unborn baby dies.

A British court has found seven years’ worth of surveillance by the UK’s counterpart to the NSA to be illegal. Question: Will anyone be punished? Answer: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA …

So Brian Williams is giving himself a paid vacation while he waits for the stink about his lying about his Iraq experience to blow over. Yes, he should be fired. No, he shouldn’t be the only person to suffer consequences for lying about Iraq.

Rummage in your bedside cabinet; the current condom shortage in Venezuela has boxes going for the equivalent of $755US.

‘Night, y’all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:34 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 4

The FCC comes out plainly in favor of ‘Net neutrality. That’s wonderful, but the devil will be in the details of the regulations, which have yet to be written.

Former Michigan attorney general Andrew Shirvell must pay $3.5 million in damages to a gay college student whom he stalked online and in real life. Dude, wouldn’t asking him out, getting shot down, and then moving on with your life have been  a lot cheaper?

A creationist theme park in Kentucky that wants both $18 million in state tax credits AND the right to discriminate on the basis of religion has sued the state, which is insisting on either/or. Guys, look up the Bob Jones University case, decided more than 30 years ago. Penguins will ice skate in Hell before you win this.

If you’re waiting on the Supreme Court to settle the question of mandatory vaccination, you can stop; it already did. In 1905.

Vermont’s new motto is in Latin. So what do conservatives do? Start bashing Latinos, obviously. Teh_Stoopid: It burns.

New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, whose fascistic tendencies already have gotten full display in cases of violence committed by his cops, now wants to be able to make resisting arrest by protesters a felony offense. Because there’s no way THAT would ever be abused.

Here in Greensboro, state Sen. Trudy Wade has introduced a bill to change the current city council election system (mayor and three other members elected at large, plus five district members, so that any one voter can vote for a majority of the council) to seven members, all elected from districts, plus a mayor, and to extend terms from two years to four, and other mischief. I’ll probably say more about that later, but the short version is that it’s a bad idea and Trudy should sit down and shut the hell up.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 7:41 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 3.

North Carolina’s junior senator, Republican Thom Tillis, says he’s just fine with NOT requiring food workers to wash up after visiting the restroom. Remind me never to shake his hand.

English majors, rejoice! Harper Lee will publish a sequel to her 1960 masterpiece, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” on July 14.

Standard & Poors, the investment ratings agency whose labeling of crap mortgage-backed securities as investment-grade helped blow up the economy a few years ago, will pay $1.38 billion to settle those allegations. But — say it with me, kids — once again, no criminal charges against anyone.

The New York Times asks an incredibly stupid question about how anti-vaxxers got so much influence. Athenae at First Draft delivers a righteous dopeslapping of an answer.

Y’all have a good evening.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 7:51 pm

Je suis Charlie

GunIsNotReligion

So this morning, three men entered the offices of the satirical Paris magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and opened fire, killing the editor and other staffers (including four cartoonists) and also at least one police officer — 12 in all. Police believe they have identified the three suspects, but at this writing — unsubstantiated Twitter posts to the contrary — the suspects have not been captured. God willing, the shooters will be caught and punished severely.

The suspected motivation of the shooters was the fact that the magazine had published satirical, even crude cartoons of the prophet Mohammed and that the shooters were seeking to punish people they saw as blasphemers against Islam. Naturally, William Donohue, the sociopath who runs the far-right Catholic League, had no problem with this. More on that in a bit.

(I’m expecting all kinds of anti-Muslim hysteria over this, but I’m not going to deal with that here. I’ll just remind those inclined toward such that someone tried to bomb the Colorado Springs office of the NAACP this week, and only by the grace of God was no one injured. And we can be pretty sure that whoever did that wasn’t Muslim.)

A couple of people have suggested I republish some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I was tempted to. But I decided I’m not going to, not because I’m afraid of being attacked (N.C.’s gun laws are considerably laxer than France’s), but because I have some points to make that I don’t want complicated by cartoons that aren’t on point — that is to say, on MY point.

First, and I shouldn’t have to say this but I will anyway, this is a horrible tragedy for the victims and their families, and my heart and prayers go out to them. And it also is a tragedy for France, our ally since the Revolution and a bastion of freedom in its own right.

Second, and I also shouldn’t have to say this but will anyway, this is inexcusable, full stop. If you seek to attack — to physically harm — anyone because of their point of view, you have forfeited the right to have any contact with civilized society. I’ve believed this since I was a kid. And I have believed since I was a kid that it applies across all political and religious lines, without exception, whether you are an Austrian painter with a bent for authoritarian government and world conquest, a satirical French cartoonist, or a Communist Workers Party member trying to unionize a textile mill, full stop. If you don’t, too, then maybe you need to re-examine your principles.

And this is where Donohue and his disgusting response come in. In a column titled, “Muslims Are Right to Be Angry,” Donohue tries to have it both ways, writing:

Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.

Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.

While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.

Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive.

Shorter Donohue: Lord, how I miss the Inquisition.

Go to hell, Bill. Go straight to hell, you and the horse you rode in on. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You want to stone blasphemers to death? You can do it there, you son of a bitch. You don’t get to blame the victim in a vicious act of terrorism and still call yourself a Christian. When you clearly wish for a world in which you can physically punish people whose beliefs you don’t agree with, you don’t even get to call yourself civilized.

While I agree that not everything that CAN be cartooned or otherwise satirized or lampooned SHOULD be, you know what? THAT’S JUST MY OPINION. And the hurt fee-fees of medievalist control freaks of any and all religions AREN’T WORTH ONE SINGLE HUMAN LIFE. Indeed, MY hurt fee-fees aren’t worth one single human life, and neither are yours.

I worked as a journalist for 25 years. My life was threatened several times, primarily when I was covering the Klan in Iredell County in the mid-1980s, so today’s tragedy hits me where I live. And it makes me feel obliged, even though I’m tired and would rather be doing other things, to stand up for the unconditional freedom from violence for those engaged in the work of sharing and expressing ideas. No idea, not even freedom and certainly not God, is worth committing murder for.

(Illustration via John D. Burns on Facebook)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 12:41 pm

Anti-police? Or pro-police, pro-public?

One would like to think that a guy who worked his way up from Drug Enforcement Administration agent to assistant director of that agency, a guy who served as both head of witness protection and associate director for operations of the U.S. Marshals’ Service, a guy who served as both fire commissioner and police commissioner for the City of New York, a guy who now gets paid very high dollars to do security consulting, would be able to face a little criticism without soiling his drawers.

One would like to think that.

But one would be wrong.

Howard Safir, the guy who has held all those positions, is crying hysterically that the criticism police now are facing in the U.S. is unmatched in the past 45 years.

He is wrong. Factually, objectively wrong.

He writes, “We have seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest offices in the land.” In fact, nothing that President Obama or New York Mayor Bill diBlasio has said can rationally be construed as “police bashing.”

He writes that Eric Garner and Michael Brown died resisting arrest. Garner was doing nothing of the sort when he was slain with an illegal choke hold. And even if one accepts that Michael Brown tried to reach into Officer Darren Wilson’s car and was justifiably shot and wounded for doing so, there is no credible evidence that Brown posed an immediate threat to Wilson or other civilians when Wilson fired the final, fatal shots.

He writes that current levels of “anti-police rhetoric” are unparalled in the past 45 years.  However, anyone who was around in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls that violent clashes between police and protesters were commonplace. And the protesters were raising hell about that, often in very intemperate language.

Today? There have been some clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in which the language has been intemperate, but on nowhere near the scale of decades ago.

No, what’s going on today is something different — something pro-public and, I would argue, pro-police. I don’t mean “pro-police” in the mindlessly jingoistic sense, but pro-police in the very practical sense of making law enforcement officers’ jobs safer and easier.

People are asking for the police to be open about and accountable for their actions. They are asking for law enforcement to stop discriminating against African Americans, which research shows it indubitably does. And they are insisting that the police be bound to obey the same laws the rest of us must.

Now unlike some people, I don’t think police are any worse-behaved today than they’ve ever been. In fact, they’re arguably much better behaved in most jurisdictions. But when everybody with a phone has a camera, police malfeasance is much more likely to be publicized than it used to be. And the larger number of reported incidents, with greater detail, reaching more people on social media, with accompanying demands that police be held accountable, looks, to the casual observer, like it might be anti-police.

It isn’t. People are insisting, rather, that cops restore “to protect and serve” to a phrase of some intellectual and moral value by behaving themselves, by treating everyone fairly including minorities who long have been treated disproportionately more harshly by law enforcement, and by being subject to the same administrative discipline or criminal punishment as anyone else would be who had misbehaved similarly.

There are some good reasons why law enforcement should want to do those things — and not only because they comports with the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the Golden Rule.

Comporting with those standards is important for its own sake. But when cops behave openly and appropriately and transparently, and are publicly disciplined when they don’t, the public’s trust in and respect for law enforcement grows. And that growth has two major practical benefits for law enforcement.

First, it makes the public more likely to confide in and cooperate with police, in both day-to-day interactions and in assisting with difficult investigations. That makes a cop’s job easier.

Second, that increased trust and respect make it less likely that a minor, routine incident will escalate into the kind of situation that could end up with a cop dead, or with a civilian unjustifiably dead and a cop’s career and perhaps life ruined. That makes a cop’s job safer.

I would think that every cop, and everyone who supports cops, would want that the job to be easier and safer.

So why would Howard Safir so blatantly mischaracterize what’s being said and done in American communities around the issue of unchecked, unaccountable law enforcement? I can only speculate.

Some possible answers: He’s genuinely uninformed in general and uninformed about how social media works in particular. He’s genuinely uninformed about the statistics showing hugely disproportionate differences between how police treat middle-class Caucasians and how they treat African Americans of pretty much any class. He is informed, but he’s locked into an outdated mindset in which rule of the police is absolute, rather than a role of community servant leadership. Maybe he just listens to too much Fox News, whose incendiary, race-baiting rhetoric is deliberately clouding the issue.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Safir needs to put on some clean undies and start asking himself about the best, fairest way to serve the community — the whole community.

That’s all most Americans are asking for.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 5:59 pm

The Senate torture report

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. (You can download it here.) Here are five things you need to know as you read it.

1) “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” — Gen. Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army (ret.), April 20, 2009

2) “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” — Gen. Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army (ret.), June 18, 2008

3) The “report” being released today is merely a heavily redacted, 600-page executive summary. The full report runs to about 6,000 pages.

4) In the words of The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin, “Many of the same news organizations you are trusting today to accurately inform you about the torture report were either naive or knowing dupes in a CIA misinformation campaign orchestrated by top CIA officials, that included leaks of information that was amazingly enough both classified and inaccurate at the same time.” So you’ll want to be very, very cautious about accepting any news report that seeks to minimize or defend the torture program.

 5) Some additional background from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:

One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (includingduring the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate reportconcluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.

American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.

I expect that even the edited, redacted document we now have will confirm a lot of ugly things we already knew and tell us about even more ugly things we hadn’t known. But the truth needs to be made public so that we at least will know what the U.S. government has done in our name, whether or not the individuals responsible are ever brought to justice.

I understand that many Americans had, and have today, no problem with our torturing people. That doesn’t make it any more effective. And it doesn’t make it any more right.

I’ve been raising questions and raising hell about this issue for more than a decade, ever since the possibility that we were torturing first reared its ugly head months before the news broke about Abu Ghraib. And while there are a lot of issues with many shades of gray, this one, to me, is black and white. Despite quite a bit of criticism here and elsewhere online, I’ve not lost a minute’s sleep on this position, because whatever else happens, I don’t ever have to worry about my kids or grandkids asking me, “Why are people calling you a good German?”

 

Sunday, November 2, 2014 8:47 am

For what it’s worth, I think Ol’ Roy is lying

I haven’t written much about the academic scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill, even though I got my master’s degree there, for one simple reason: I haven’t had a chance to read the Wainstein report, let alone the 900-page supplement, in which some of the worst dirt is said to be found. But what I have gleaned from media reports is bad enough: a rogue academic program of which a rogue athletic program took full advantage. There was an utter lack of institutional control — a lack that should lead to serious repercussions, and not only from the NCAA (as if).

What went on at UNC, involving roughly 3,100 students during an 18-year period, dwarfs what happened at Southern Methodist University, whose football program actually got the NCAA’s death penalty almost 30 years ago for paying 21 football players a total of $61,000. (That remains the only case in the modern era of the penalty’s being imposed on a Division I revenue-sport program.) If this doesn’t merit the NCAA’s death penalty, what does?

But I also think that this situation calls for God’s own proctological exam from the college’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. SACSCOC could, at the extreme, withdraw accreditation from UNC. Without accreditation, the university’s students no longer would be eligible for financial aid. And without that eligibility, much of the university would collapse from lack of cash. Large state universities are not as overwhelmingly dependent upon tuition revenue as are small, private colleges, but loss of accreditation would be an existential threat to UNC-Chapel Hill. And, frankly, I’m not sure it isn’t deserved.

I don’t say that lightly. I’m all too aware that the long knives already are out for the university at the hands of the state’s Republicans. And I acknowledge right up front that any such punishment would fall overwhelmingly on the heads of students, faculty, and staff who had nothing to do with the fraud and would suffer unjustly as a result. But I still think it needs to be said, needs to be talked about, because I’m not sure what else will get it through people’s heads, at Carolina and throughout college revenue sports, that if we’re going to have rules, we must abide by them. (Whether the rules we have are actually the rules we need is a separate discussion, albeit one I’m willing to enter with a very open mind.)

At UNC, although fewer than half the students involved were athletes, a disproportionate number of basketball players took advantage of sham classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department to remain academically eligible to play, including members of the 2005 national-championship team. And we’re being asked to believe that Coach Roy Williams and his predecessors — Matt Doherty, Bill Guthridge, even the sainted Dean Smith — didn’t know about it.

My friend and former colleague Ed Hardin says in today’s News & Record (column not online) that he believes Williams didn’t know, although he argues that Williams should have known. I don’t disagree with Ed lightly on matters athletic because he knows a hell of a lot more about them than I do. But I know deception as well as anyone. And what Williams says is too clever by half.

See, if he really didn’t know anything, then why would he admit that, as Ed puts it, “his only concern was that too many of his players were in the AFAM classes and that he never met with [whistleblower] Mary Willingham”? If he truly knew nothing, why even bring up those classes? If he truly were concerned with honesty, why not meet with Willingham?

No, I think Roy screwed up here in trying to make it look like he wasn’t completely an idiot. Unfortunately, complete idiocy is the only condition congruent with a claim that he knew nothing about the academic fraud. Otherwise, what he did amounts to willful ignorance, which, for a man in his position as head coach of a nationally ranked revenue-sport program, is complicity, full stop. Perhaps he might not have known all the details, but he had to know that his program was dirty and had been for years.

And as far as the bigger picture goes, we’ve basically been asked to believe that one rogue academic counselor and one rogue professor were the masterminds of a program through which 3,100 students over 18 years defrauded the university and were themselves defrauded in return. To put it politely, that hypothesis beggars belief. I think Roy knew, and Doherty, and Guthridge, and Smith. I think athletic director Bubba Cunningham knew, and John Swofford before him.

And I think the NCAA’s death penalty ought to be the least of UNC’s worries.

Monday, October 27, 2014 8:39 pm

In which Lt. Gov. Dan Forest writes me. And I write back.

Sweet baby Jeebus, but Teh_Stoopid is strong with my lite gov. He writes:

Lex —

Over the last two weeks, those of us who have publically offered that the states, rather than federal circuit and district courts, have the constitutional authority to make decisions on marriage have been met with derision by liberals.

Unfair name-calling and allegations of bigotry have reached ridiculous levels aimed at those of us who are defending the constitution.

The following is a quote from the United States Supreme Court on who holds the balance of power between the federal government and the state governments when it comes to marriage. See if you can guess which Justices signed off on it.

The recognition of civil marriages is central to state domestic relations law applicable to its residents and citizens. See Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U.S. 287, 298 (1942) (“Each state as a sovereign has a rightful and legitimate concern in the marital status of persons domiciled within its borders”). The definition of marriage is the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the “[p]rotection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.” Ibid. “[T]he states, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, possessed full power over the subject of marriage and divorce . . . [and] the Constitution delegated no authority to the Government of the United States on the subject of marriage and divorce.” Haddock v. Haddock, 201 U.S. 562, 575 (1906); see also In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586, 593-594 (1890) (“The whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United States”).

Consistent with this allocation of authority, the Federal Government, through our history, has deferred to state-law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations. . .. Federal courts will not hear divorce and custody cases even if they arise in diversity because of “the virtually exclusive primacy . . . of the States in the regulation of domestic relations.” Id., at 714. (Blackmun, J., concurring in judgment).

The significance of state responsibilities for the definition and regulation of marriage dates to the Nation’s beginning; for “when the Constitution was adopted the common understanding was that the domestic relations of husband and wife and parent and child were matters reserved to the States.” Ohio ex rel. Popovici v. Agler, 280 U.S. 379 (1930).

This must have been Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas, right? Possibly Justice Alito or Chief Justice Roberts? Maybe a justice from the early 1900s or the late 1800s? If those were your guesses, you would be wrong.

The quote is from the majority opinion United States v. Windsor, a case from 2013. The Justice who wrote the quote? Justice Anthony Kennedy. The Justices who joined him in this quote? Four of the most liberal justices to sit on our nation’s highest court: Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

We stand for the State’s authority to legally define marriage. And we have over two-hundred years of constitutional jurisprudence on our side. It is the name-callers who seek to rewrite the constitution out of whole cloth by judicial order.

-Lt. Governor Dan Forest

http://www.danforest.com/

So, being an attentive correspondent, I wrote him back:

Dear Lt. Gov. Forest:

The current Supreme Court has undone a total of centuries’ worth of settled law with no complaint from you, so it is more than a little precious that you’re now complaining that SCOTUS has undone some settled law in a way of which you happen to disapprove.

You fail to grasp that the question at issue in the recent legal proceedings wasn’t “defining marriage,” but one of an extraordinary — and unconstitutional — infringement upon the First Amendment free-exercise rights of religious organizations that wished to perform same-sex marriages. Even if you ignore the rights of the individuals involved (which you have seemed all too willing to do), the state cannot restrict the free-exercise rights of churches absent a compelling state interest — and no state government, anywhere, has been able to convince the Supreme Court that any such interest is even close enough to existence for four justices to vote to hear a case on the subject.

Your argument has been weighed and found wanting, so shut up, go away, and stop wasting my tax money trying to carry out unconstitutional restrictions of religious freedom.

Love Your constituent only until we can get rid of you,

Lex

I realize there will always be dead-enders, but, dude: 1) You lost. Get over it. And 2) You either don’t understand the issues involved, or you understand them and are lying about them, either of which disqualifies you from holding political office in any sane world. I realize that the likeliest explanation for your behavior is that you’re positioning yourself to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2020 — or in 2016 if McCrory goes wobbly on the Koch-ALEC agenda — but fat, dumb, and pandering to the mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers is no way to go through life, son.

I do so look forward to the day that North Carolina can bundle all this DERP back to Bat Country where it came from. A village in Mississippi has misplaced its idiot in our state capital.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 8:45 pm

Someone needs to cut the legs from under Lieutenant Dan

As if we have not been subjected to far too much of Teh_Stoopid already with regard to same-sex marriage in North Carolina, now comes Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to try to make political hay off the issue:

If you’ve been paying attention to the media, you’ve been told numerous times from opponents of North Carolina’s Marriage Amendment that the fight is over, and that they have won. That is not the case. The following is a realistic scenario that could lead to a constitutional showdown between the state and federal systems as to which court, outside the Supreme Court of the United States, has the legal authority to rule on North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

Last week, the Administrative Office of the Courts directed magistrates that they could not refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, no matter what the reason, including their personal moral and religious objections. This directive informed them that failure to comply could result in removal from office and criminal penalties. In response, our state needs but one magistrate to legally challenge the edict sent down from the Administrative Office of the Courts on two grounds.

The first ground is that the memorandum directs him to violate his religious conscience, thereby violating his right to religious freedom preserved by the North Carolina and United States Constitutions. In particular, the North Carolina Constitution provides that “all persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

The second ground is to assert that the memo directs him to contravene the North Carolina Constitution by performing a ceremony that is not recognized by law, and is in fact, prohibited by the marriage amendment. You may wonder how that is possible after Judge Cogburn’s ruling purporting to strike down our amendment. That is one of the beauties of federalism. As succinctly stated by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in the case of State v. McDowell: “A state court should exercise and apply its own independent judgment, treating, of course, decisions of the United States Supreme Court as binding and according to decisions of lower federal courts such persuasiveness as these decisions might reasonably command.” North Carolina case law is clear. Decisions of the Fourth Circuit and federal district courts, while persuasive, are not binding on state courts.

Should this case reach the Supreme Court of North Carolina, a vote by our honorable justices exercising their own independent judgment to uphold the amendment overwhelmingly approved by the people would set up the very real possibility that the United States Supreme Court would hear arguments, having a split on the issue between a state court and the Fourth Circuit.

The constitutional showdown is a very real possibility. Supporters of marriage should not lose heart. The voice of the people will be heard.

So much legal FAIL here.

Just for starters, the mere fact that the wording of Amendment One, which banned same-sex marriage in this state, nominally remains a part of the N.C. Constitution does not mean that the prohibition has any legal force. Sodomy remains a felony under North Carolina law, even when it involves married heterosexual couples, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas rendered that statute unenforceable. The high court’s refusal to hear appeals of federal appeals courts’ strikedowns of same-sex marriage bans has the same effect on Amendment One, and no amount of clapping by Dan Forest changes that legal fact.

It’s entirely possible that Forest is ignorant of that fact, but the likelier scenario is that he’s playing to the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging GOP base — to primary McCrory from the right if McCrory goes squishy on the Koch/Pope agenda between now and 2016, or to run in 2020 when McCrory is term-limited out (assuming McCrory wins re-election, which is by no means a lock at this point). The fact that this approach is about as cynical and disingenuous as a politician can get anymore without bringing up voter fraud is just icing on the cake for Forest.

Unsurprisingly, his blog isn’t accepting comments on that post. The good news, my Greensboro friends, is that we have an opportunity to speak directly to Dan Forest on this issue.

He’ll be holding a town hall at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Oak Branch Conference and Events Center, 23 Oak Branch Drive (map). The purpose of the event is to drum up support for a Constitutional Convention — a gathering of the states for the purpose of wholesale rewriting of the U.S. Constitution. That way lies madness — no limit need be placed on any such convention’s agenda, so who knows what insanity might get put up to an instant vote without care or consideration — but it also is highly unlikely that anyone can rally enough votes to make such a convention happen anytime soon. Instead, this town hall offers the sane among the populace the opportunity to get up in Forest’s face, live and in concert, and ask him:

Just how goddamn stupid do you think we are?

 

Monday, October 20, 2014 9:04 pm

They made their bed. Now let them damned well lie in it.

Driftglass on the insane Both-Siderism that keeps the American public from grasping just who’s really at fault:

The short history of modern American politics is as follows:

Conservatives poison the public well with paranoia, bigotry and plain bugfuck insanity while sabotaging the government on purpose to gain political and economic advantage.

Liberals point out that poisoning the public well and sabotaging the government are, y’know. bad things.

Centrists clutch their pearls until their palms bleed, and then blame their stigmata on both sides being equally unreasonable and mean.

All of this was on lurid display in this fascinating article in Esquire — “Help, We’re in a Living Hell and Don’t Know How to Get Out” — in which the author talks to 90 members of Congress and concludes that our the legislative branch is, well, this:

If you fastfood the article, the impression you would probably come away with is, Jebus, what a bunch of dysfunctional whinyass tittybabies.  [Bleep] ‘em all.

In other words, the GOP long-range plan to sow ruin and despair is working flawlessly.

The author of the article to which Driftglass links asks us to believe two things for which there are no facts in evidence: 1) that there are Republican congresscritters who are really disturbed about what their party has become, and 2) that the same forces of immoderation and insanity that fuel the GOP fuel, in mirror image, the more radical Democrats. He does the latter despite the fact that Democrats manifestly are NOT being primaried, with the help of enormous, shadowy money groups, because they were insufficiently fervent in their advocacy of single-payer, abortion rights, gun control, climate-change amelioration, or other items on the Left’s wish list. Far from it; it’s hard for those issues even to get a respectful hearing on the Democratic side of the aisle.

So, no, it’s not both sides. And Driftglass makes that case most eloquently even if the people in the national media who most need to see it never will.

Monday, October 13, 2014 9:11 pm

The U.S. media normalize batshit. They have done so for years. And The Washington Post finally notices. Hallelujah.

Recently, I took my local daily — the same local daily at which I toiled for 22 years — to task for, in Pat Moynihan’s deathless phrase, defining deviancy down among Republican political candidates. This is a theme I have written about numerous times, though usually with respect to national media, not local.

Now comes Paul Waldman at The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog to say that, hey, this is a thing:

… these judgments by reporters end up being self-fulfilling prophecies: if they decide that a “gaffe” is going to have serious political effects, they give it lots of attention, which creates serious political effects.

And in the last few years, there’s a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing or far-out idea from a candidate no longer strikes them as exceptional. …

But during this cycle, Republican crazy just hasn’t broken through at all. It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right. At this point so many prominent Republicans have said insane things that after a while they go by with barely a notice. This is an era when a prominent Republican governor who wants to be president can muse about the possibility that his state might secede from the union, when the most popular radio host in the country suggests that liberals like Barack Obama want Ebola to come to America to punish us for slavery, and when the President of the United States had to show his birth certificate to prove that he isn’t a foreigner.

So ideological extremism and insane conspiracy theories from the right have been normalized. Which means that when another Republican candidate says something deranged, as long as it doesn’t offend a key swing constituency, reporters don’t think it’s disqualifying. And so it isn’t.

It’s good to see one of America’s most influential news organizations taking note of this phenomenon. Except … well, I’ll let Driftglass spell it out:

Having written about this phenomenon literally thousands of times practically since the day I started blogging and having talked and thought and read about it since long before that, let me say that this “looking with alarm” recognition that the media routinely enables Conservative madness and depravity is so far too little and so far too late as to be darkly amusing.
Yes, I appreciate Mr. Waldeman’s work in The American Prospect.  And, yes, on one level  I get a tiny, childish surge of satisfaction at seeing this in a Major Murrica Newspaper .  But the sad upshot is this: in 2014, one person in one column has caught up to what Liberal bloggers have been writing about for over a decade and what pre-blogging Dirty Hippies have been screaming about all during the political metastasization of the Moral Majority…and death of the Fairness Doctrine…the rise of Hate Radio and Fox News…the relentless Right Wing conspiracies against the Clintons…the impeachment of Bill Clinton over trivia…and so forth.
So it is indeed a fine thing to read It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right” in the Washington Post.   But to read it in 2014 feels a lot like reading a headline asking “Is American Facing An Economic  Depression?” in a major American newspaper … in 1938.
So far too little and so far too late as to be bleakly hilarious.
Although a nontrivial number of us stopped laughing a long time ago.
This phenomenon is merely one of the more toxic parts of an incredibly toxic tendency of American political journalism: the tendency to look at everything, everything, through the frame of “How will it affect a candidate’s polling?” without also, and first, examining issues and behavior on their merits or lack thereof. It’s more horse-race journalism, which is the last thing we need: It’s all speculative, and there is never any penalty for being wrong.
Examining issues on their merits would require real journalism be performed. And whether or not the reporter is correct would become far more obvious, with reportorial failure becoming far more difficult to ignore. So reporters avoid it and editors let them, if they don’t actively encourage them to do so.
And so our political discourse grows more and more meaningless, and more and more batshit people have the opportunity to create real trouble.

 

Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:31 pm

No, both sides DON’T do it, Part the Infinity

Every time I or anyone else correctly points out the disproportionate influence of conservative spending on the American electoral process at both the federal and state levels, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But the liberals do it, too!” In point of fact, a quick visit to OpenSecrets.org will show you that while both sides might do it, one side does it far more than the other, and that just happens to be the same side that also has been working for more private money and less transparency with respect to money in the political system. That money, in turn, leads to necrosis of our one-person, one-vote system.

In particular, every time I or anyone else points out the disproportionate influence of the Koch Bros.’ spending on the system, someone — either a liar or a useful idiot — usually pipes up with, “But … but … SOROS!” And, yes, billionaire George Soros does contribute a fair bit of money to liberal candidates and causes.

But nowhere near as much as do the Kochs. From an objective, mathematical standpoint, the comparison is just silly.

So, all you both-siders: You now know that you’re wrong. If you’re going to continue to insist on being a both-sider, I’d like to know: Which are you, liar or useful idiot?

Sunday, September 28, 2014 6:31 pm

When the Koch Bros.’ Americans for Prosperity meddles with voter registration …

Load Images To See What the Koch Brothers Are Doing Now To Influence Our Elections in North Carolina

 

 

The News & Record and batshit Mark Walker, redux

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.

Metaphorically.

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.

 

Saturday, September 27, 2014 6:40 pm

How Koch Industries could blow up financial markets again

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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 8:49 pm

Whitewashing; or, How the News & Record foists batshit insane candidates onto the electorate.

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.

 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 8:03 pm

Bell House is closing, and here’s why.

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.

Monday, August 25, 2014 8:12 am

Letters to the editor: Now the News & Record is just trolling us

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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014 6:51 pm

“I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database [of police killings] is intentional.”

The question has been raised a lot in recent years: How many people die each year at the hands of the police?

There’s no good way to find out, so D. Brian Burghart of the Reno (Nev.) News & Review set out to try to find out after driving past the scene of an officer-involved shooting about two years ago. He has enlisted the Internet to help him find out.

This, by damn, is why we have, and need, an Internet.

He’s compiling what he and others find, after rigorous fact-checking, at fatalencounters.org. Here’s how he got involved in it:

It began simply enough. Commuting home from my work at Reno’s alt-weekly newspaper, the News & Review, on May 18, 2012, I drove past the aftermath of a police shooting—in this case, that of a man named Jace Herndon. It was a chaotic scene, and I couldn’t help but wonder how often it happened.

I went home and grabbed my laptop and a glass of wine and tried to find out. I found nothing—a failure I simply chalked up to incompetent local media.

A few months later I read about the Dec. 6, 2012, killing of a naked and unarmed 18-year-old college student, Gil Collar, by University of South Alabama police. The killing had attracted national coverage—The New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN—but there was still no context being provided—no figures examining how many people are killed by police.

I started to search in earnest. Nowhere could I find out how many people died during interactions with police in the United States. Try as I might, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. How was it that, in the 21st century, this data wasn’t being tracked, compiled, and made available to the public? How could journalists know if police were killing too many people in their town if they didn’t have a way to compare to other cities? Hell, how could citizens or police? How could cops possibly know “best practices” for dealing with any fluid situation? They couldn’t.

The bottom line was that I found the absence of such a library of police killings offensive. And so I decided to build it. I’m still building it. But I could use some help. You can find my growing database of deadly police violence here, at Fatal Encounters, and I invite you to go here, research one of the listed shootings, fill out the row, and change its background color. It’ll take you about 25 minutes. There are thousands to choose from, and another 2,000 or so on my cloud drive that I haven’t even added yet. After I fact-check and fill in the cracks, your contribution will be added to largest database about police violence in the country. Feel free to check out what has been collected about your locale’s information here.

This is some righteous crowdsourcing, let me tell you.

And what has he learned from all this? Two things, both of them sad and infuriating.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this project is something I’ll never be able to prove, but I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database is intentional. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.

It’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence. What evidence? In attempting to collect this information, I was lied to and delayed by the FBI, even when I was only trying to find out the addresses of police departments to make public records requests. The government collects millions of bits of data annually about law enforcement in its Uniform Crime Report, but it doesn’t collect information about the most consequential act a law enforcer can do.

I’ve been lied to and delayed by state, county and local law enforcement agencies—almost every time. They’ve blatantly broken public records laws, and then thumbed their authoritarian noses at the temerity of a citizen asking for information that might embarrass the agency. And these are the people in charge of enforcing the law.

The second biggest thing I learned is that bad journalism colludes with police to hide this information. The primary reason for this is that police will cut off information to reporters who tell tales. And a reporter can’t work if he or she can’t talk to sources. It happened to me on almost every level as I advanced this year-long Fatal Encounters series through the News & Review. First they talk; then they stop, then they roadblock.

He elaborates on how journalism is failing to deal with this problem. I don’t think it’s quite as intentional as he does, but I do think the consciousness of a lot of reporters and editors needs to be raised on this issue. That means being intentional and serious about collecting data, to the point of lawsuits in jurisdictions in which the law is on journalists’ side.

And it also means taking up for what Jesus called “the least of these,” because — surprise! — that’s who most often winds up dead at the hands of law enforcement:

Journalists also don’t generally report the race of the person killed. Why? It’s unethical to report it unless it’s germane to the story. But race is always germane when police kill somebody.

This is the most most heinous thing I’ve learned in my two years compiling Fatal Encounters. You know who dies in the most population-dense areas? Black men. You know who dies in the least population dense areas? Mentally ill men. It’s not to say there aren’t dangerous and desperate criminals killed across the line. But African-Americans and the mentally ill people make up a huge percentage of people killed by police.

And if you want to get down to nut-cuttin’ time, across the board, it’s poor people who are killed by police. (And by the way, around 96 percent of people killed by police are men.)

I’d like to think that my local daily will get better at this, but I know better. So I’m going to see if I can help this project out. Wherever you are, I hope you will, too. We empower police officers with the right to use deadly force if necessary to protect themselves or innocent others. We deserve in return a full and complete accounting of how that right is used, or misused. There is no excuse for law enforcement to provide less, and there is no excuse for those departments’ communities, including but not limited to news outlets, to expect less.

(h/t: John Robinson)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 10:05 pm

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

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

In … um … Texas.

By … um … a Republican.

Oh, snap.

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

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

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

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

Here’s what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But … but … but … RIOTS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh. Um. Well.

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

Pop quiz: Did you hear him?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 9:18 pm

Time to yank a knot in the thin blue line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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