Sunday Talks, 8/31/14

On ABC’s This Week, the primary topic will be the threat from ISIS. The panel, with Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and ABC News’ . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 8/31/14

Friday Talking Points [318] -- The Gender Gap

FTP3President Obama gave a press conference recently, and — since it is still the political Silly Season — got a lot of media attention. For what he was wearing. No, seriously. Washington was all a-twitter (or even a-Twitter) because Obama wore a suit that was not dark blue or black. While some may smack their heads over the idiocy of what passes as the Washington press corps, the right thing to do is to celebrate how males have finally reached sartorial equality with women, when viewed by political “journalists.” This is not a backhanded compliment, I hasten to point out, it is meant as a backhanded insult. Because it is always insulting to a politician to focus on what she (or, now, he) is wearing, instead of reporting on the substance of her words and actions. This has been going on for women in politics for exactly as long as women have been in American politics, right up to Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and Sarah Palin’s shopping spree. All women know this — they will be judged on what they wear, sometimes more than what they say or do. Especially female politicians. President Obama is just getting a tiny taste of what women have had to put up with in the political arena since Day One. So I choose to celebrate this new equality (of the idiocy of the political press), and the closing of this particular part of the gender gap.

Men, of course, have it easier than women when choosing what to don each morning, for two big reasons. One is the fact that they’re men, meaning reporters report on what they say and do a lot more than how they look. The second is that there simply aren’t that many “acceptable, serious” choices for what men are supposed to wear in the business or political world. Should I wear the dark blue suit, or the black suit with barely-visible pinstripes? That’s about the range of choices, really. There are only two acceptable areas for expressing any sort of originality or personality: the tie, and the flag pin. And the flag pin’s a fairly recent addition. Women, on the other hand, have no hard-and-fast rules limiting their choices, which serves to make the choice itself much harder (given the wider range of choice offered) — to say nothing of the standard they’ll be held to once they actually do get dressed.

As Silly Season winds to a close, there were a smattering of “Obama’s on vacation — how dare he!?!” stories, as usual. Obama has taken less than a third of the days off that President Bush did (the reigning champion of presidential vacation time), but that certainly doesn’t stop pundits from complaining every time Obama picks up a golf club. Bob Cesca did an exemplary job of researching another president’s vacationing (while important events were simultaneously happening), complete with some photos of Ronald Reagan not wearing a dark blue suit.

In other “quick looks into the past” news, President Obama announced he would — only 151 years late — award the Medal of Honor to a soldier from the Civil War who showed leadership on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Oh, and we hope everyone marked the bicentennial which happened this week, 200 years after Washington D.C. was burned in a key British victory in the War of 1812. This didn’t get a lot of attention in the American press (understandably), but will likely be mentioned in passing when we all hear about the bicentennial of the battle for Baltimore two weeks from now — which gave us our national anthem.

But enough of these detours into history. After all, we’ve got an election right around the corner! Labor Day is the traditional kickoff to the serious meat of campaign season, and for the wonkier among us there is an interesting article (with interactive map) at the Washington Post site which reports that over a billion dollars will be cumulatively spent this year on ballot propositions alone. This article highlights a few of these races, which could become important as goads for each party to increase turnout among their base. It’s wonky, but it’s also a fascinating thing to keep your eyes on as we head into campaign season.

Republicans are already campaigning their little hearts out, which always provides some amusing moments. In Pennsylvania, the Republican governor is fighting for his political life, and so he thought he’d do a little outreach to women — with predictable results. Two years ago, Tom Corbett responded to the forced-ultrasound debate in his state by suggesting women should just “close your eyes.” Stay classy, Tom! Continue reading Friday Talking Points [318] — The Gender Gap

Exploring Our Paradoxes

DDThere is a convergence of paradoxes no one seems to understand. There is an outward motion that is taking unusual turns and twists, and politicians are using these unique circumstances and unfamiliar challenges to offer and project blame.

But blame obscures our paradoxes. It’s a pretense to an easy answer that misses the real point. One main point is itself a paradox: the point that paradoxes are often missed. They are confusing and confounding. Paradoxes challenge not only our identity and legacy, the missions we have “accomplished,” the “hope” at the center of our faith and courage—and our voting—they challenge the zeitgeist we cherish—paradoxes challenge the spirit of the age. All around us, paradoxes are redefining our times. Our response is we fuss, surrender, complain or turn mean.

One major American institution, driven by greed and ego, has been taken over by its own self-created paradox: the media that is to inform us often conceals and shades from us the most important facts it purports are its reason to exist. Too often, its reporting offers no analysis. Its experts spend too much time on politics and prophecy—answering the unanswerable, “what happens next?” Seldom does it answer what happened before.

The news, intended to inform us, is a tabula rasa (an erased tablet) and instead is shaped by its thrill factor, be it warmth or fear. Warmth: YouTube pets parade through the networks; cute, cuddly, silly; American. Fear, horror: any GOP sound bite, any battlefield; any natural disaster or crime scene or courtroom.

How many networks invited or interviewed any of the 51 African heads of state who attended the historic first US-African Leaders summit, held in Washington, DC less than 3 weeks ago? How many Americans know what agreements were signed? What commitments were made for future plans? Or what these continental leaders see as their most important needs?

How many media companies have focused on the obvious in the story of ISIS (or ISIL, as the administration terms the terrorist group): who is providing its well organized and funded supply chain? Capturing battlefield weapons from fleeing regulars doesn’t supply spare parts. Nor does the mass killing of civilians provide the bullets and other armaments that continue to be readily available in abundant supply to ISIS as it fights on multiple fronts. Who keeps its trucks filled with gas, feeds its mob of killers—who trained them in military discipline and tactics—when none of these skills, experiences and capacities are a part of its leadership’s resume?

Don’t jump to the easy answer; don’t be quick to blame.

The smooth operation and steady funding points to more than Arab benefactors; to my mind, only the Russians have the ability to organize a clandestine supply chain of the size and variety ISIS requires, especially in the middle of multiple conflicts surrounded by hostile states. But how? The media appears to have no interest in knowing the “how” of this important hidden story.

And American media absolutely refuses to work its way through the paradox of race and violence, especially violence as state actions driven by group and individual attitudes, supported by law and court decisions, backed by paranoid, local communities.

Not once has the media pointed out that police brutality was an assumed routine in black communities nationwide well into the 1970s. Suspects were beaten into confessions. Police killings went unquestioned. And white youth also suffered death. In May 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds, killing 4 unarmed college students at Kent State. At one point in the 1970s, in Detroit, the city with the highest incidence of police killings in the 1970s, 40 fatal police shootings resulted in only 4 misdemeanor charges.

Police killings are not only committed against black male teenagers. The elderly and mentally ill often are killed by officers sworn to protect the lives of those they serve. Yet police investigators often focus on justifying shootings by officers, rather than determining what really took place. Investigators routinely aid officers in changing stories to protect themselves. Investigators also regularly fail to interview eyewitnesses and gather evidence against the police.

America has increased the numbers of police, from 602,000 in 1992 to 794,000 in 2012; decreased the likelihood of police dying in service by 33%, as crime rates have fallen; yet, civilians killed by police were estimated at 587 for 2012. More than 5,000 civilians killed in the decade between 2002 and 2012, according to the Justice Policy Institute. That 5,000 greatly exceeds the numbers of Americans killed by terrorists in the same period.

The police have created the paradox of brute force: its very use is justified by its use. And its use is quickly becoming overuse, changing the law by attitudes to accommodate actions at the margins of law and beyond the line of justice. Unlike sports, over the line isn’t a win; it’s a loss of American freedom. It targets communities and individuals, robs segments of the population of the right to live without fear.

The paradox of those who are to protect us using their power to create a tyranny that micromanages behavior by confrontational deadly force points to the most bewildering paradox we confront. Continue reading Exploring Our Paradoxes

Stormy Monday, 8/25/14

StormyMondayMichael Brown’s funeral will be held at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis on Monday. Brown’s father Michael Sr. has appealed to protesters to suspend their activities temporarily. “We just want a moment of silence that whole day. Just out of respect for our son,” he told hip-hop station Hot 104.1 FM. Along with planned memorial services and vigils across the country, a protest is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. outside the White House.

Now that the Iberia Parish, Louisiana Coroner’s Office has released information flatly contradicting outlandish police claims that Victor White III fatally shot himself while handcuffed with his hands behind his back as he sat in a patrol car last March, his death can be expected to resonate anew.

Protests against yet another example of police violence are likely to continue on Staten Island this week after a large Saturday rally led by Al Sharpton over the July 17 death by chokehold of an unarmed African American, Eric Garner, while in custody.

This week, the administration undertakes a review of federal funding and provision of surplus military-grade weaponry to police departments, practices that, like so many other foolish, wasteful and counterproductive policy decisions, were instituted soon after September 11, 2001. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/25/14

Sunday Talks, 8/24/14

On ABC’s This Week, House Homeland Security Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) discusses the latest threat from ISIS. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) who represents Ferguson in Congress, will talk about about the ongoing . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 8/24/14

Friday Talking Points [317] -- Big and Little Brother

FTP3A lot happened in the world of politics this week. People are still dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, for instance. There are actually multiple scandals happening to various governors right now, but since none of them involve sex, the media is mostly ignoring them (with the exception of Rick Perry, perhaps, since the media has been swooning over him ever since he put on a pair of glasses). But we’re going to ignore most of it all this week, to focus instead on the aftermath and ramifications of what has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri for the past few weeks.

The news from Ferguson was the dominant story of the week. It even reached international proportions, as both Egypt and Russia got in a few digs at American police and protesters. I discussed this Cold War phenomenon way back in FTP [273] in more depth — the old game America and the Soviets would play with each other, casually pointing out the bad things they did to their own citizens, on the world stage.

Putin’s preposterous posturing aside, however, there seems to be one tangible proposal emerging from the chaos of Ferguson. Oh, sure, the nation is (once again) having that “discussion about race” which always happens after these events, but in the past pretty much nothing has ever really changed as a result. This time might just be different. Because there is a growing movement to require police officers to wear cameras all the time, while performing their duties. A new petition on the White House site calling for this change has (as of this writing) over 140,000 signatures — well past the 100,000 threshold that is supposed to generate an official response. So we’ll see what President Obama has to say about the idea soon, one assumes.

The idea is a simple one to understand, but it does have complexities. Enacting a “Michael Brown law” wouldn’t be as easy as it first might appear. There are both technological problems (how long would the videos be retained?) and implementation problems (could the cops wearing the cameras ever turn them off?) to be considered before drafting any such law.

But the basic idea seems to be a sound one. It would turn the tables on “Big Brother,” in a way. For years, I’ve been pointing out how the “Little Brother” effect has been growing (by which I mean citizens videotaping cops behaving badly, as well as wider geopolitical aspects of everyone now having a video camera/phone in their pocket). Here in America, citizens have a constitutional right to photograph or videotape police officers doing their jobs, as long as they aren’t interfering with the officers’ actions (standing in the path of a running cop, for instance). Not every police officer is aware of this, though, which has led to cops trying to stop people filming them and even confiscating cameras or forcing people to erase data. Hopefully, these incidents will become rarer in the future. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [317] — Big and Little Brother

'Police are deeply saddened by this tragic event'

freehandThe most sobering thing I’ve read in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri didn’t focus on Brown, his uniformed killer, or Ferguson at all. It was a news item from last December about an incident in Iceland.

On December 2, police shot a man to death in Reykjavik, the first such shooting in Iceland’s history as far as anyone knows. He was reportedly firing a shotgun in his home for reasons not disclosed, and fired at police as they entered the building after an unsuccessful attempt to subdue him with teargas. The chief of police held a press conference the same day, describing the shooting as “without precedent” and noting “police are deeply saddened by this tragic event and would like to extend their condolences to the family of the individual in question.”

As the Guardian article linked above points out, Iceland is by no means a gun-free society. estimates its citizen gun ownership to be 30.3 per 100 people, ranking Iceland 15th in the world on a per-capita basis (the United States tops the list with a rate roughly three times higher). They also estimate that Icelandic police have an arsenal of 1,039 guns, though police officers on “routine patrol” do not carry firearms.

Iceland’s population of about 326,000 is very close to that of St. Louis, with about 318,000. Yet in 2011 alone, police in St. Louis shot 11 people, three of them fatally, according to statistics compiled by crime writer and former FBI agent Jim Fisher. (Ferguson, eight miles away, is part of the Greater St. Louis area, but has its own police force, however dysfunctional.)

In 2010, gun deaths per 100,000 people in the United States stood at 10.1, while Iceland’s 2009 rate per 100,000 was 1.25 and never went above 2.85 in any year between 1996 and 2009. Continue reading ‘Police are deeply saddened by this tragic event’

Drowning in Pain and Anger

DDThere are times when words aren’t heard; their sense is lost, drowned in pain and anger. In our deafness, we only know how to blame. We have forgotten how to heal. We are no longer able to hear. The Sisyphean landslide has burnished and buried our ears’ common sense.

What should we be listening to? In America, the police and many citizens should be listening because American communities are not war zones; the police mission has no inherent right to kill in order to protect. Petty crimes should not involve the loss of life and should not be turned into confrontations and threats that lead to deaths.

Somebody should have been listening to a collective national consciousness of grief and anger that began to break through on the national stage with the death of Trayvon Martin; the death of the unarmed teen Jordan Davis, who never got out of the car through which the bullets entered as the car was speeding away; the death of Eric Garner in front of a Long Island store, whose death was ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office. There are other cases, lesser known, but well known in local communities.

There are grievances that are historic. In Ferguson, the Justice Department has been told of a 2009 beating by police in which the beating victim was charged with destruction of government property—because his blood spattered onto police uniforms.

Some have pointed to the lack of respect for law and authority that exists within these communities or in the minds of those killed. Few commentators talk about the lack of respect for these communities by police and others; where too often the risk management of police-suspect confrontation ends in death—often with the victim unarmed and dying from multiple bullet wounds. Continue reading Drowning in Pain and Anger

Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

StormyMondayAt the behest of Attorney General Eric Holder, the body of Michael Brown will be autopsied for a third time this week as federal and state investigations into his fatal shooting by police officer Darren Wilson continue. Tensions between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri showed little sign of abating over the weekend, despite Governor Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of a curfew.

The President is still in Washington for a previously announced interruption in his Martha’s Vineyard vacation with the family. The White House announced Sunday that he will receive a briefing from the Attorney General on the situation in Ferguson, and another from the National Security Council on Iraq. He’s scheduled to return to the Vineyard on Tuesday, barring the undeniable possibility that someone somewhere will do what the President would probably describe as “stupid shit.”

Rick Perry will be busy this week insisting to every friend and family member, fellow Texas Republican, probing reporter, and/or pizza delivery guy he encounters that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing despite last week’s grand jury indictment on two felony counts. In a hilarious appearance on Fox News Sunday, Perry claimed:

This is not the way we settle political differences in this country. You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.

Which I guess explains his vigorous efforts in 2011 to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, who favor Democrats, with a draconian voter ID law that, like Rick Perry, will soon be the subject of a court case.

In more than one sense of the term, Amanda Curtis hits the ground running this week as she begins an 11th-hour campaign to hold a Democratic Senate seat after incumbent John Walsh plagiarized himself out of the contest. Montana Democrats chose her over the weekend to replace Walsh, who was himself tapped to replace the mercifully retired Max Baucus. Curtis teaches high school math by day, and hasn’t yet secured a leave of absence from her school board for what virtually all observers consider to be a doomed campaign against Republican Steve Daines. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

Sunday Talks, 8/17/14

ABC’s This Week will cover the unrest in Ferguson, MO. Iraq War veterans Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)  will talk about US actions in Iraq. ABC News contributor and Democratic strategist . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 8/17/14