Murder and Theft

DDWitness Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience at its unimagined worst: a Congress in rebellion against itself and its oath, whose continual looting has brought inattention and cynicism to the treasures carefully hidden and being lifted out of its ruins. The powerful have long been known for the benefits that can be reclaimed from the trough of moral morass. Pull out freedom; its leverage becomes an element of theft.

Before any great political theft, the ground must be made ready. Money must be put in in order for money to be taken out. Politics must reach beyond logic and ignore facts and details to ignite passion, a passion tied to fear and prejudice that becomes push-pull factors that block and bend the attractions of voters and drive their preferences. A push-pull factor that combines fear and prejudice into a powerful package is death.

Death is a common bedfellow of politics. Death is the political spear of politicians. Its push-pull offers the satisfactions of blood lust to followers and offers a palate of fear that dismantles opponents. Other than martyrs, death defines losers.

Socrates’ sentence of suicide is a part of the politics of the ancient Greeks. Crowds in the 1800s gathered in festive moods outside of London’s Newgate Prison for hangings as vendors set up shop for food and sold relics of the hangman’s ropes. In Charleston, during this period, the heads of convicted slaves were mounted on wood columns at the foot of the city’s entry bridges as a warning and assurance to all who passed. These few examples are among the many ways civilizations dealt death as punishment and tried to prime the social environment for political theft.

The use of African-American deaths in politics begins with the journey of the Middle Passage from Africa to America; bodies were jettisoned during the Atlantic crossings, and these deaths incited rebellion and despair—and a raft of insurance claims. Later, the enslaved were hunted and murdered at night by special horseback patrols. The Civil War brought the Fort Pillow massacre; the blood spilled by black Union troops turned the Mississippi red. At Ebenezer Creek, in December 1864, 30 miles from Savannah, the bodies from a refugee train killed by Wheeler’s Cavalry dammed the creek.

After the Civil War came the organized, methodical killing of KKK units across the South; then came the mob violence of lynchings in which bodies were hanged and burned. The violence caused black schoolteacher and former Civil War nurse Susan King Taylor to write in her reminiscences:

In this “land of the free” we are burned, tortured, and denied a fair trial, murdered for any imaginary wrong conceived in the brain of the negro-hating white man. There is no redress for us from a government which promised to protect all under its flag. It seems a mystery to me. They say, “One flag, one nation, one country indivisible.” Is this true? Can we say this truthfully, when one race is allowed to burn, hang, and inflict the most horrible torture weekly, monthly, on another? No, we cannot sing “My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of Liberty”! It is hollow mockery. The Southland laws are all on the side of the white, and they do just as they like to the negro, whether in the right or not.

In 1923, a riot resulted in six blacks and two whites killed and destroyed the self-sufficient black town of Rosewood, Florida.

And then the Civil Rights movement came. It brought a new wave of white violence that targeted blacks: the deaths mounted, from the violent beating with a cotton weight that bashed in the skull and tore out the eye of visiting teenager Emmett Till, to the shooting on his porch of Mississippi NAACP President Medgar Evers, to the explosion that killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, four young girls attending Sunday school in a Birmingham Baptist church on September 15, 1963, to the three civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, killed less than a year later in June 1964, to three college students in South Carolina, killed on campus by state police at South Carolina State in February 1968. The name of the college’s basketball arena memorializes Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith.

From 1882 to 1968, over 3,400 blacks were lynched, killed in anger and hate, without due process, murdered by mobs and individuals that got away scot-free. And last week, in a rally across from the White House, caught on an open microphone, the cry to hang Obama was seconded by a voice that said, “He wouldn’t be the first.”

Death and theft are not separate in politics, but in America, death has been the throwaway; it launches a political payload and drops away. Texas executions, school massacre (there has been a school shooting every five day, on average, since Newton), street violence; in recent days, the misuse of police authority has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets from New York and Chicago to Berkeley and San Francisco to the stadiums of pro sports, where outraged police officials have demanded apologies but have sent none of their own to the families grieving from police killings. Not a single card of sorrow for their loss, not an expression (except for Ferguson and New York) of compassion or sympathy.

Death is a muscle memory in black communities. Every local town has an incident etched in memory.

Yet the effect of the grief and the lost of the dead themselves are denied. The dead are blamed for being killed while unarmed, blamed for being choked to death, shot to death, lied about, blamed for disobedience, until the primal taste of the lynch mob fills the mouths of those who cannot find a way to say, “I’m sorry.”

What guides the killings, expanded now to a global stage (this week: Pakistan, Australia), is a culture that revels in its hidden impulses. This era has seen the world’s largest sustained impulse for wealth. The heads of state of African countries (Angola, Nigeria) are billionaires. Fines for illegal conduct by big banks in the US run into the billions. Russia, once the world’s great communist regime, has billionaires sitting in its parliament. China, a socialist nation, has the world’s second largest number of billionaires, after the US. The world’s richest person is a Mexican business mogul who controls much of Latin America’s telecommunications and cell phone business. The sovereignty of Argentina is being threatened by US Federal Court judgments made on behalf of hedge funds that own large bundles of Argentina’s defaulted debt; the country’s President flies commercial when she leaves the country; an Argentine navy ship was seized but returned when it docked in Africa.

Within the global culture that desires and celebrates wealth is an out-of-control ideal expressed as greed. Greed argues for shortcuts to wealth: not work hard and climb the ladder, but kill and steal. Greed flourishes where there is destabilization. Killing weakens the bonds of the society’s structure. Insurgencies are getting rich. ISIL is the creation of this paradox.

Faith lost, and greed spreads. More die. It repeats again. Ancillary breakdowns of society occur. The irrational widespread fear of Ebola, and crowds of adults blocking buses of immigrant children who had reached our borders to stop their entry into facilities in their communities foretell a loss of inner strength and inner truth.

Through seemingly unconnected, death is one of the elements that sets the ground for greed and leads to theft. The connection is the way their interior values attract and repeal, push and pull.

The worst form of civil disobedience is robbery, the taking of what belongs to others by law or natural right. The law is broken when Congress or the crowd goes against government measures and protections and when the law itself becomes a tool to steal and rob, as it supposedly comforts our loss. Murder can occur only once in a life, but robbery can be repeated. When done under law, it is protected by force, and justified as stopping intrusion.

For example, out goes the cry: the Affordable Care Act robs us of the right of choice. But those insured clients dropped after the purchase of insurance were robbed of the right of choice in a time of need; at precisely the point where insurance took on greater importance and would provide security against health catastrophes and the cost of catastrophic illness, it vanished, without appeal or recourse.

The point here is political theft is often committed in the name of freedom, and this flag-wrapped theft often stands on bloody ground. But rarely are these connections direct. In modern cultures, blood money will have two phases, seemingly unconnected. The first destabilizes, the second resets the rules.

Witness the budget bill swiftly approved by the two chambers of Congress last week. After six years of destabilization, its resets included riders on potatoes, whole grains and salt in school lunches, on clean water, on truck drivers’ working hours, on farmers with livestock killed by wolves, and on campaign gifts, all passed without debate, swept forward, tucked in neatly with the $1.1 billion in spending that in some places was as much vendetta as budget.

Despite its size, the central issue of this mundane list of special interest riders is an overarching fact: its business-as-usual is destroying democracy. It places special interests beyond the reach of public accountability. It replaces Congress’ fear of discovery with the cold glare of indifference, and while it claims to condemn government as the enemy of business, it deliberately hides the use of government for gifts to business friends. The doors of democracy are unlocked to the rich. Those same doors are closed and sealed shut to the poor.

If government is the enemy, look again to find out who its friends are. Too often, it is those who criticize it as being the enemy. This blame and embrace is an old favorite of corruption. Cast the blame elsewhere; haul in the spoils. Continue reading Murder and Theft

How A Killer Got Away With Murder

DDNot protesters but the system of American justice is morally and intellectually out of control. Justice is in the hands of vigilantes who are brutes intent on robbing liberty without fear of rebuke, and America is proving false to its own promise, indifferent and deaf to its whirlwinds of cruelty. Much of America revels instead in the brutish delight that shines in its inner soul, as it calls others demons and reveals how it has lost its reverence for providence or truth.

With blood on its hands, it has no legitimacy lecturing the aggrieved about safety or destruction, when it has proven it will not protect the lives of youth unarmed, when its lust for killing spreads unchecked to every border, when a single prosecutor cloaked as an agent of authority manipulates the system and calls its darkest evils fair play, taking a measure of time to display a sentiment of contempt and arrogance, putting a default on liberty without life and improvement. Power pretends concessions as it silently approves citizens’ peril by emptying life from souls lying still against curbstones—bodies left in plain view for all to see the pride of termination taken in the kill and the madness of this accruing demand and the political taste for blood, blood to gratify an exasperated illogic, that bullets weighed on the scale of human powers make some unworthy and inferior, and that their general dislike warrants this impression and sanction of foul play.

Michael Brown’s death was a modern, “justified” lynching. Months after, his killer is uncharged.

Focus in: the local prosecutor, his father a police officer killed by a black civilian, his mother a police department clerk, his family still serving on the force, should have been immediately removed for a special prosecutor. The Governor failed to do so.

This prosecutor then took his knowledge of the system and created a secret jury that tried guilt and determined innocence before charges were brought. The roles of the participants reversed and switched, the grand jury did not take up the matter of guilt for trial, but began to try, by its impressions and its unchallengeable decision, whether the killer of Michael Brown, a police officer on duty, was innocent.

The prosecutor pressed the case and made clear the impression that Michael Brown’s killer had committed no crime. He did not present a bill of indictment to the grand jury. He never specified any offense—manslaughter or murder—or any degree—recklessness, negligence, maliciousness, intent—he as prosecutor supported by law, evidence or testimony of the killer’s actions or guilt.

In putting “all” of the evidence before the grand jury, the prosecutor actually selected what the grand jury would see in secret, changed its function, and presented the killer’s defense. This prosecutor went one step further. He made the case for the defense before an indictment or trial, by relinquishing the role of prosecutor as an advocate and adversary protecting the rights of the people.  In his abdication, he led the jury to protect the rights of the accused by rules of procedure, by questioning testimony, and by avoiding a rigorous presentation of both sides that a trial would bring.

To show how far off course was this prosecutor’s revolt, Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia disagrees with his ambitious use of the grand jury, as Justice Scalia firmly spelled out the role and purpose of the grand jury’s proceedings in a 1992 case (United States v. Williams), cited by ThinkProgress:

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of years.

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

This prosecutor instead paraded and coddled witnesses for the defendant (openly, and publicly calling those who disagreed liars and persons who “made stuff up!”). He let the killing officer testify for hours, and he avoided challenging or probing or any adversarial role—when it was beyond the scope and not the role of the grand jury to hear the officer’s statement in the first place!

One of the “believable” witnesses wrote in his diary that he always called black people “niggers,” including, according to his handwritten diary, the day he witnessed the shooting!

But the key moments come when the killer police officer himself testifies before the grand jury in secret, although the transcript is now released and public. It shows how a skilled, deft prosecutor disobeys his oath of office, abandons his role, and engages by discourse in a legal enterprise of shameless hypocrisy to take the evil and guilt away from a wrongful death.

Consider a few minor examples: think of the size of a car window, its height from the ground. Is it credible to believe that a 6’4″ man can strike blows through a car window and travel through an interior space restricted and obstructed by a steering wheel, to render his killer nearly unconscious by striking his right cheek? Not the left cheek, the side that actually faces the window, but the right cheek, the side of the face away from the window, which is turned and not positioned well for the direct impact of a punch, “a full swing.” The limited redness and swelling in the photograph and its wide area indicate the killer’s testimony is open to question—and doubt. The prosecutor raised none and asked for no explanation, despite the major inconsistency.

Oh, and why not roll the window up? Trapping Michael Brown’s arm?

If this minor description raises questions from common sense and appears to show exaggeration (or lying), how reliable will the killer police officer’s other statements be, especially when compared to eyewitnesses, one of whom was next to the man he shot dead?

In the middle of a fight with a police officer, would you, as the officer described, turn to a friend and say, “Here, hold these,” passing over a pack of cigarillos? Is this credible or surreal?

And from the novels of Herman Melville and the tradition of racial stereotyping, the twice-shot youth, “bulking up,” making a step or a hop from a disputed distance, is stuck by the final bullets that end his life, although he was known to be unarmed.

Well, maybe not. After fighting in the car, running away, being hit by bullets, the killer officer says, he appeared to be reaching (or reached) into his waistband (of his basketball shorts). Other witnesses, like his friend standing next to him, say it did not happen. His hands remained in view, either raised or at his sides. But the prosecutor says they “make stuff up.” No gun or weapon was found. Twelve shots were fired. One person died.

How was that death handled by the local police, fellow officers and colleagues of the killer, according to grand jury testimony, released after its decision? The Washington Post reports:

When Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.

Local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene.

Injuries to Wilson’s head caused by punches he said were thrown by Brown were photographed by a local detective at the Fraternal Order of Police building.

Maybe some people who testified did make “stuff” up.

The killer police officer told detectives at the scene he fired one shot from inside the car; before the grand jury, with the benefit and knowledge of physical evidence, confronted by the forensics, he remembered firing twice.

Critical of social media for questioning the killer’s account (Wilson has said he would do it again), the hideous prosecutor revolted law and understanding by releasing transcripts that left the no hope for justice from the state, and even shares how he suborned justice by its own hand; by the paradox of evil and choice that lies at the justice system’s crossroads. The prosecutor’s horrible choices failed to obtain an indictment, but he succeeded by his forfeit. Then he took a half-hour of live national television to indict the rest of us. Continue reading How a Killer Got Away with Murder

We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don't We Know Biomass?

DDThe US Congress perseverates. Its new leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, have it bad. John McCain holds its longest recognized precondition. It is incurable and resists every treatment. Perseveration is a state of thought and speech, a mindset on a loop that repeats and repeats and prolongs an action long after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased. Think Keystone XL. Think Keystone. A political mutation from the perseveration of Obamacare.

Perseveration is a dangerous condition. It is a frequent condition that infects terrorist leadership who carry it to inhuman extremes. At home, perseveration often occurs as a host/carrier relationship between politicians and the media. Media is highly susceptible to its effects and has created recent epidemics and panics that stem from the main condition. Fears of Ebola’s spread to US soil is one such recent incident. The grand jury verdict in Ferguson is now another.

Congressional Republicans are single-minded and love to perseverate. About the XL, they ring memes: “thousands of jobs,” thousands of jobs,” “thousand of jobs;” the loud repetition masking that the pipeline has many dirty little flaws—beginning with the misleading jobs claim. Perseverating Republicans have a wild XL jobs math that includes school crossing guards anywhere near trucks with XL equipment, the counter and register workers at the doughnut shops where the truck drivers have coffee, and the supermarket worker who sells the bread for their sandwiches and the banker who receives their mortgage.

Here’s a more accurate picture: As we know, XL pipeline construction jobs will be less than the number on any NJ-NY highrise, less than those involved in building the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The XL requires infrastructure (mainly grading, bed prep including stone and rock beds, drainage, installing braces), but is easy construction (mainly bolting and welding); these jobs will turn over swiftly as it builds out. The main impact will be in transportation and heavy equipment jobs (engaged hauling pipe sections, parts and instruments; then in lifting and positioning sections for installation, transferring and moving equipment and parts along the pipeline). Total new jobs: less than 500! New jobs lasting for more than six months: 150. Permanent jobs added to the economy: 50. Mainly for pipeline monitors, reading instruments and driving along to visually inspect the pipeline for damage and leaks.

The impact on refineries? The Texas Gulf refineries aren’t empty or idle. And no one proposes building new capacity. Net result: Jobs will remain constant; output will increase. China benefits. No tanker leaves Houston or Port Arthur empty.

The Washington Post says the economy adds the numbers of jobs provided by the XL every 10 minutes and nine seconds. Exactly the time it takes Republicans to perseverate about their lie of thousands.

The danger of perseveration is not only its exaggerated realities, but it how it pushes out new ideas and solutions and keeps them away from public attention.

Biomass is perhaps the most important green energy technology no one has heard of and for which Congress has not taken up a banner of support.

At its most basic, biomass is producing energy from organic matter; burning wood in a stove or fireplace, for example. At its most advanced, biomass energy is sustainable and an efficient recycler of bio products considered waste and left abandoned by lumber and agricultural industries. It is one of the most scalable of green technologies, and breakthroughs are happening swiftly, improving the process and dropping the costs of production and transmission.

biomass_graphic

Beaver Wood Energy, a Vermont company, reclaims forest waste from logging operations. Within a 50-mile circumference of its facilities site, 2.6 million tons of logs are harvested annually, leaving behind nearly a million tons of waste, mainly in the form of tree tops and branches stripped from the stem trucks to be used as timber in construction and craft. Continue reading We Know Tar Sands, But Why Don’t We Know Biomass?

A Time To Act

DDThe next Republican step will be to force President Obama to use the veto in a way that tanks Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Presidency. The GOP-led Senate will not be interested in passing any useful legislation. The Senate will function only as a political wedge, driving bills that the President will veto, but that will also be loaded with riders affixed to the GOP agenda.

With the McConnell Senate, President Obama will be consistently faced with the lesser of two evils, between which there won’t be a dime’s worth of difference. The Senate will turn his vetoes into a political wedge, often pointing to the issues from both sides, to create a circle of confusion.

Remember, the House rarely sent up a clean bill, whether on the debt or a continuing resolution—which is what led to the government shutdown in 2013—surprisingly never mentioned by Democratic candidates, who gave the GOP a free pass on one of the worst of its legislative disasters domestically and internationally, damaging US standing in every world capital. Expect no less from Democrats, nor any more from Republicans with their win in the Senate.

It seems throughout the election Democrats were thinking about offices; Republicans were thinking about power. Republicans used the very shadows they created (a do-nothing Congress, Obama!) and pretended to oppose it by feigning substance, taking even tougher stands on waste, debt, red tape and intrusion—all of which they created in the shadows, all of which had been reduced in the light. But no one among the Democrats attached this darkness to Republican names.

Only dark money was attached. Russ Choma, at NoOpenSecrets.org (part of the Center for Responsive Politics) writes:

The real story of the election’s campaign finance chapter was not which side had more resources, but that such a large chunk of the cost was paid for by a small group of ultra-wealthy donors using outside groups to bury voters with an avalanche of spending.”

OpenSecrets further noted:

Spending by outside groups fall in three categories: independent expenditureselectioneering communications and communication costs. The 2004 election marked a watershed moment in the use of independent expenditure to sway voters, with most of the new spending coming from the national party committees. The 2010 election marks the rise of a new political committee, dubbed “super PACs,” and officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals.

The center issued this chart that looks at combined totals: Continue reading A Time to Act

New Hampshire Points to the Future

DDThe real story of the 2014 midterm election can be found in New Hampshire’s Senate race. More than any other states, its votes show how American politics is being redefined. Its results show how rapidly voters are shifting away from the old political paradigms of party and local issues to agenda-driven national issues that drown out regional and state concerns. In New Hampshire, look beyond the winners and losers, at the details and trends. There you’ll find the emerging politics of tomorrow.

First, New Hampshire was the place of Scott Brown’s third try in four years for the US Senate, with only his first attempt being successful but short-lived—but each of his last two races were competitive. New Hampshire was Brown’s second try in two years to win a Senate seat; he moved to the state in December 2013, after losing to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, losing a seat he won after a special election.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.

His 2014 Democratic opponent was the incumbent Senator, former Governor and state legislator Jeanne Shaheen, who had a string of eight election victories in New Hampshire, and was without scandal or personal negatives. She had lived in New Hampshire for 40 years.

In the end, the difference was 17,000 votes out of a rough count of a quarter-million votes cast. That means over 225,000 voters voted for a man who had never served in New Hampshire politics and only jumped into its Senate race last April. Brown had never lived there until 11 months ago, and was clearly using the state as a stepping stone for his singular ambition to win a Senate seat. He had a single plank in his platform: Obama is bad news.

Make no mistake, Republicans want that slogan’s conclusion to resonate as they interchange the names: Hillary is bad news; O’Malley (of Maryland) is bad news; Warren (Massachusetts) is bad news; any and all Democrats are bad news, because they allowed the nation to elect Barack Obama. It is a negative cult of personality tied more to race than reality.

Brown’s boldness, changing states, running on a single plank devoid of state issues, represents a remarkable shift in American politics. It shows conclusively that local politics do not matter (witness Tillis’s win in North Carolina against Kay Hagan!), and that political rhetoric is separating and decoupling from political reality. In one debate, asked about the local economy in Sullivan County, Brown said he saw no difference between it and the than the rest of the state. Shaneen, on the other hand, clearly articulated a list of important local issues. Continue reading New Hampshire Points to the Future

How to Buy Power and Influence

DDOnce, you bought elected officials. Today, you buy the election. How? With ads! Short, distorted, repetitive, intense, saturated, without facts. Who pays? Outside groups. An example: since 2006, the Republican State Leadership Committee has gone from spending $20 million on GOP candidates to a projected $37 million by next week, mainly aimed at state legislatures and judges. In a break with precedent (and mainstream media coverage!), the new era of free speech has focused attacks on elected judges, especially on state Supreme Courts. In North Carolina, one televised ad accused a sitting judge of “siding with child predators.”

And win or lose, these ads are working. A new report  says state judges are considering these ads when they issue rulings in court. The net effect of these ads is slowly, invisibly changing justice, even on constitutional questions.

According to the American Constitution Society (ACS):

Outside interest groups, often with high-stakes economic interests or political causes before the courts, now routinely pour millions of dollars into state supreme court elections. These powerful interests understand the important role that state supreme courts play in American government, and seek to elect justices who will rule as they prefer on priority issues such as environmental and consumer protections, marriage equality, reproductive choice and voting rights. Although their economic and political priorities are not necessarily criminal justice policy, these sophisticated groups understand that “soft on crime” attack ads are often the best means of removing from office justices they oppose.

The Society issued a report, Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising, and State Supreme Court Justices’ Decisions in Criminal Cases, that compiled data from more than 3,000 criminal appeals decided in state supreme courts in 32 states from 2008 to 2013.

It found:

  1. The more TV ads aired during state Supreme Court judicial elections in a state, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants. In a state with 10,000 ads, a doubling of airings is associated on average with an 8 percent increase in justices’ voting against a criminal defendant’s appeal.
  2. Justices in states whose bans on corporate and union spending on elections were struck down by Citizens United were less likely to vote in favor of criminal defendants than they were before the decision. In these states, the removal of those prohibitions after Citizens United is associated with, on average, a 7 percent decrease in justices’ voting in favor of criminal defendants.

ThinkProgress notes: “Outside spenders pay for ads with particularly vicious content” even as candidates they support distance themselves; one in Ohio dissembling its support by claiming an ad against his opponent as not an “appropriate approach to judicial campaigning.”

A Mother Jones article cites these phrases from ads: “Terrorist sympathizer. Friend to criminals. Pedophile supporter.” A “free a terrorist” ad ran in Michigan 416 times!

Heavy on emotion, short on facts, completely without context or specifics, watch this example from Michigan:

This kind of ad, televised, makes electoral debate a tough sell and appeals to the lowest forms of information, anger and fear—at the sacrifice of the freedom the soldier died for.

In states with elections for local court seats, money is also wielding a bigger presence on justice.

But the changes in political funding created by the Citizens United decision, along with the internet, have also created more citizen ads, with low production values and distinctively local flavors. For example, these next four, each a little bizarre: Continue reading How to Buy Power and Influence

Turkey, Sayreville, and Some Democrats Get It Wrong

DDI.

Turkey’s actions, however it thinks itself justified by its internal and regional politics, have been outrageous on the international front and strike the wrong balance for a country concerned about its security.

Turkey should have promised aid long ago when the international coalition against ISIL formed. Aid helps promote peace and opens new channels. Aiding the Kurds in the fight against ISIL might further the peace talks with its Kurdish opposition and win support for coexistence within Turkey among its Kurds, 20% of its population and long oppressed. One thing is sure: the act of denying support and access only hardened old tensions and angered the international community and the Kurds at home. Turkey is missing a unique opportunity to forge a new era of cooperation by failing to focus on a dangerous regional enemy and turn a new page.

That missed opportunity—which Turkey is now trying to regain—may prove to be a greater threat to Turkey’s future than the narrow concerns that drove it to launch air attacks early last week on the Kurdish rebels, taking advantage of the Kurdish forces’ engagement with ISIL.

After hitting the Kurds with F-16s, Turkey accused the Kurds of using Kobani support as a “blackmail” tactic for the peace process. In reality, Turkey is using Kobani to further its wrongheaded military aims and as blackmail to compel the US coalition to attack and engage the Assad regime in Syria.

Turkey’s change of direction may help in the fight over Kobani. But it may come too late to win brownie points internationally or further peace internally.

II.

Attitudes in response to the Sayreville hazing range from cavalier to laissez-faire to open anger and hostility—all which point to evidence that we have a larger problem: we are becoming a nation of bullies and victims who are to minimize their degradation and find the humor in their shame. It matters less the details of who did what; the crime here is the attitudes that are shaping the response of both the children and adults. It seems that few can see or realize the moral failing put on display by the hazing. Whether as a potential threat or a real one, physical restraint is not “bonding,” it is intimidation. It takes away a fundamental right to feel safe and secure physically among peers. It’s a social form of attack that violates every moral and legal practice, but few seem to get it. All have dismissed the homoerotica in the nature of the hazing which was planned and executed; the lights out symbolic of denial.

Evidence the young female student quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We sure as hell hate them now,” about the victims. She feels her righteous indignation is justified by her sacrifice—not being able to attend football games. She has not a single thought of empathy for those hazed and expressed no ambivalence about the misconduct. She simply wants to pile on. She does not see in her own anger cause for remorse.

In a sport in which individual behavior affects and penalizes the team, many seem to be denying this fundamental relationship and consequence of bad behavior. Too many are focusing on sport and competitive success. If not the hazing, it’s really about a massive failure of character and the community climate which enables, supports and justifies the debacle.

III.

Neither party nor policy is responsible for the shredding of the President’s leadership by Democratic candidates: with job growth unprecedented, GDP growth up, troops at home, uninsured numbers reduced, US oil production globally number one, the Dow doubled, consumer confidence tripled, and higher wages on his plate and several successful fixes for the bureaucracy in progress, his opposition is in name only. Largely without support or cause. Continue reading Turkey, Sayreville, and Some Democrats Get It Wrong

Police Bullets Kill People and Truth

DDA cop’s strongest weapon is the truth. Honesty is more powerful than his or her bullets. I can sense doubts, objections and disclaimers rushing forward. Honesty won’t save you from physical threats, from people armed with guns! True, but is the prime strength of policing the biggest capacity for violence? It’s a dangerous world! True, but is strength measured by who’s quicker to the trigger?

An irony of violence is it loses its strength when it is applied for the wrong reasons or when it serves the wrong purpose. When state violence steps outside of the law, or only serves itself, it is illegal. It violates the social order it cunningly claims it protects.

More and more, violence is embraced by individual police officers, who cite a person’s actions as “threatening” to their own safety and welfare. This assertion is not made on behalf of public safety, but officer safety: the state is making the claim on behalf of its right of enforcement that officer safety, no matter the degree of doubt about the claims of “threat,” is paramount, above all public good and order. It asserts the police decision is supreme. This is a meta-legal process. It argues I have to kill to protect my right to kill and to protect my person, and my judgement is sufficient alone to determine the threat.

The last group of renegades who acted on these self-granted claims of violence and power were the Confederate Cavalry under “Fightin’” Major General Joe Wheeler, who pillaged and sacked Southern plantations, looted their treasures and supplies, and raped their women (to maintain morale), in support of the cause.

Police violence is no longer serving the public; it is acting out personal ends. With the rubber stamp of the state. Protest and the police show up with armored personnel carriers, military rifles, and snipers aimed and ready.

Once the threat that entitled force was “resistance,” violence was justified when the subject was resisting arrest or apprehension. During slavery, Frederick Douglass reported the most common offense for whipping was “impudence;” it was charged whenever it pleased the propertyholder. Today, the police buzz word is the ubiquitous “threat.”

Is violence justified by the feeling of a threat without a real perception? Is the mere idea of a “threat” enabling police to get away with murder?

In some analyses, anger is a threat. An angry officer, “threatened” by a subject, fires and kills.

Are there elements within police culture that tacitly support violence—or vigilantism, the taking of the law into their own hands?

The strongest weapon of policing is the one that meets the goals of policing: to protect and serve, to reduce crime and threats. That weapon is truth. But let’s look at the law.

Violence, which used to be the last resort for police, is now becoming the first choice. The legends of the Wild West, of Dodge City and the OK Corral, haunt certain neighborhoods, where police training standards are disappearing and their fade is supported by administrators who argue the justifications for the wanton and obvious misuse of force, deferring to excuses and denials, and more often, just plain lies.

Trust is based on truth. Trust is the collective virtue that is the basis for the unnamed rights implied and protected by the seldom mentioned Ninth Amendment, that addresses a host of the natural rights of people and communities, including the right to associate and travel freely, without state interference, suspicion or monitoring.

Strangely, no court cases have ever been decided under the Ninth Amendment. It has been alluded to only once, as the basis of the legal protection of privacy within marriage. It does, however, provide constitutional protection that citizens have the right and expectation to be free from state violence—and police shootings—during the normal enjoyment of their lives and their duties and leisure. Further protection is provided by the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects citizens against the denial of those natural rights without due process—which includes snap decisions made by police under duress. Continue reading Police Bullets Kill People and Truth

What Is Happening to the Children

DDWhat’s happening to the children? I bet your first thought is which children? The kidnapped girls in Nigeria who captured the interest of the world, gaining commitments from international governments to send troops to pursue their return—but suddenly vanished from our imaginations, or at least our television screens and social media accounts?  Or the 40,000 children massed along the US southern border with Mexico, whose 1,000-mile pilgrimages were met with protests, demanding their immediate return to countries and communities where they would be met by death and rape, the violence of  promised threats from criminal gangs? Or maybe the uncounted and silent thousands of children who suffer from hunger because food assistance was cut by the Congress to “help” the balance sheet of federal deficits driven by Wall Street and tax giveaways to corporations, who are leaving the country in a huff because they want more even as we give the children less.

The Lost Boys of the Sudan. Duane Romanell photo.

The Lost Boys of the Sudan. Duane Romanell photo.

Thousands of children are refugees, displaced by conflict violence, whose only hope is to abandon their homes with their families and flee into the unknown. They live on the edge of civilization, marginalized as temporaries, their lives suspended from education and the security of a society rooting for them to find a future of success. As refugees, they live in a world in which hope is denied.

What’s happening to the education of US children? Why are states and communities resisting a national standard that allows any methodology and curriculum to meet the new standard?

Why is there a virus that suddenly emerges in 47 states that is sending hundreds of children to hospitals and has registered more US deaths than Ebola, with only miniscule public outcry?

Why are teachers engaging in sex with students, according to reports from Louisiana where two female teachers are alleged to have had a threesome with a male high school student; in Virginia where a married female teacher admits to having sex with four high school students; in Red Bank, NJ where a male substitute teacher is accused of having an ongoing sexual relationship with a student; in Bucks County, PA where a female middle school band teacher is accused of having sex with a student inside her vehicle; in Maplewood, NJ where a female teacher is charged with having oral sex with 15-year-olds on school property; in Brooklyn, NY where a male math and science teacher at one of the city’s elite high schools is charged with having sex with at least six female students, supported by evidence from videos and texts; in New Hampshire, where a male teacher is accused of having sex with a student in his classroom and encouraged the student to cover it up in an e-mail; in El Paso, TX which has reported four incidents so far in 2014; in South Carolina, where among multiple incidents involving multiple students, a female Berkeley County teacher is alleged to have had sex with a three students during a house party? Continue reading What Is Happening to the Children

The Secret Service's Open Secrets

DDIt was clear she had been a dedicated agent and administrator, but Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was in over her head. She spent her years in the Service as a field agent in Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida, and except for four years from 1988 to 1992, she was never directly involved in Presidential Protections or White House duty except for oversight.

From her resumé:

In 1996, Ms. Pierson entered the agency’s supervisory ranks with her selection as Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Protective Operations. Later that year, she was transferred to the Tampa Field Office where she served as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge and was responsible for directing Secret Service investigative and protective activities in western Florida. Ms. Pierson established an Electronic Crimes Task Force to investigate cyber crimes in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2005, Ms. Pierson returned to the Office of Protective Operations as Deputy Assistant Director. In this position, Ms. Pierson oversaw the agency’s Presidential Protective Division, Vice Presidential Protective Division, Special Services Division, as well as budgetary operations for 1,200 employees.

Since June 2006, she has held the position of Assistant Director of the Office of Human Resources and Training. As Assistant Director, she was responsible for all human resource programs and training for the Secret Service, including policy development and management of the agency’s Personnel Division, Security Clearance Division, Workforce Planning, Work-Life Programs, and the James J. Rowley Training Center.

Good jobs. But do any of them sound like the kind of hands-on innovation and knowledge of drills required of the world’s most important Master Chief or Sergeant Major, responsible for the daily details and lightning responses, piersonafter long, numbing periods of maudlin ennui, to thwart potential threats against a President from an ever-growing list of crazies?

Did her resumé really prepare her for a laser focus on carrying out the policies and standard of the performance, training and conduct of the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Division?

One Congress member at Tuesday’s House hearing pointed out that protection detail agents had received no training in 2013 and only one class the year before. Pierson acknowledged different segments of the Service can’t communicate because they use different radio frequencies. But most telling was an inspector general’s report that indicated the rank and file had little trust (less than 50%!) in the bosses, a vital tell that signaled the problems that kept reoccurring and the reasons why they are not fixed.

The breach of the White House and the other recent failures in protection and agent misconduct begin with the loss of personal and professional integrity, apparently widespread among the Protection Division, according to an earlier Inspector General report. That 2012 report reviewed agents soliciting sex workers in Cartagena, Columbia ahead of a Presidential visit, and noted such incidents were numerous. Continue reading The Secret Service’s Open Secrets