Lawnorder Ain’t What It Was

To most folks these days “Law and Order” was a television series featuring Sam Waterston as the irascible Jack McCoy and Jerry Orbach as the scruffy but lovable Detective Lennie Briscoe, plus a lot of other great actors and their characters. The spinoffs never quite came up to the level of the original, IMO.

But before that “lawnorder” was a common buzzword, particularly during the Nixon Administration, that excused police brutality toward racial minorities and “hippies.”  Crime was a great wedge issue for conservatives for a few decades, because liberals — with their confounded ideas about civil rights and fair trials — were seen to be “soft on crime.” And make no mistake, the word “crime” was very racially tinged in the minds of white Americans. Popular entertainment reflected the desire to throw out the rule books at meet the threat of thuggish criminals with more thuggishness. You could find this expressed in everything from Dick Tracy comic strips to Dirty Harry movies. Charles Bronson also became known for acting out common vigilante fantasies on the big screen. And even as recently as the 1990s many New Yorkers talked about “Giuliani time”as if it were a good thing.

Today the Washington Post is running an opinion piece titled I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. And boy howdy, the comments are ripping this guy to shreds. Thousands of comments. Granted, the article itself is not as provocative as the headline. But I sincerely think that if it were, say, 1970, most of the comments would be “Yes, of course. Thank you, officer.”

Things didn’t change over night, but between 1970 and now, something has changed. Whether it’s us or the cops, I’m not sure. Maybe because there was no Internet in 1970, and most of us never heard of police dumping paralyzed people out of wheelchairs (seriously; google “police dump man out of wheelchair”; it’s a regular genre).

Hard core conservatives still make excuses for police brutality even as they wave their flags for “liberty.” So not everyone is keeping up. In Ferguson, the “authorities” are playing their usual game of selectively dribbling out information to make the shooting of Michael Brown appear justified. But it seems to me there is not so much widespread acceptance of the official narrative as would have been true even two decades ago.

True Colors

The American Right loves to portray itself as being all about freedom. Liberals, on the other hand, hate freedom, according to the Right. Seriously, google “liberals hate freedom” sometime. You will find gems such as Five Ways Liberals Try to Control You.

Liberalism is an ideology that believes in control, not freedom. That’s why liberals love the federal government so much while they detest states’ rights. It allows them to bend hundreds of millions of people to their will with one imperial edict. It’s also why liberal judges don’t believe in the Constitution like conservative justices do.

Here, apparently, is the catch:

Sticking to one set of rules means people have freedom to do what they want as long as they adhere to the basic rules our society was formed around.

I infer that conservatives are the ones who get to decide which are “the basic rules our society was formed around,” which are the rules we all must follow, because freedom.  My favorite of the five ways liberals try to control you is #2, “Liberals want to control your major life decisions.”  Like, maybe, when to have children and whom to marry? Oh, wait…

Also awhile back, the Koch Boys released a study titled “Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom,” and in this study the blue states were persistently less free than the red ones.  If that doesn’t jibe with how you understand things, it’s either because the Koch boys define “freedom” in a way that lines up with their own interests (lower taxes, less regulation) and bleep you, or you hate freedom. I’ll let you work that out.

In other words, American righties are indeed stalwart defenders of liberty as they define it. Andrew Leonard pointed out that the three least free states, according to the Koch boys, are California, New York, and New Jersey.

The millions who cluster on the coasts delight in their thriving arts communities and smorgasbord of dining options and the sheer intellectual stimulation that accrues from the helter-skelter activity of a big city. Many of us have agreed to an implicit trade-off: We’ll put up with the impositions of big government because we are getting something essential out of the deal. Freedom is not a zero sum game. And you know, some of us might not even think that paying high taxes to support a robust safety net for those less fortunate is the worst thing that ever happened. We might even pride ourselves on it.

I grew up in rural Missouri and now I live just north of the Bronx, and in all ways that count (to me) there is more freedom here. People are less rigidly conformist here. You can wear mismatched shoes and a cone on our head without starting a riot, for example. If you are an artist of any sort you are freer to express yourself, even in outrageous ways, here. The coastal cities have long been more tolerant of homosexuality and less likely to restrict reproductive choices. There’s much more of a live and let live attitude. Yes, you put up with more crowds and bizarre parking restrictions, as well as higher living expenses, including taxes. As Leonard said, it’s a trade off.

I bring this up because I just read about a panel of Fox News “experts” who supported the police overreach in Ferguson, Missouri. This is showing their true colors. “Liberty” to the Right is defined by the values of authority figures. We are to receive as much liberty as our leaders think is good for us (and them).

And imagine the apoplexy had militarized cops gone after the Cliven Bundy militia.

As I wrote earlier this week, there are many on the Right who do seem to realize the militarization of the police force is a bad idea. Yet these same people refuse to see the racial issue. And while there are reports of gun rights groups calling for an end to the militarization of police, they don’t seem to be supporting it very loudly.

In short, the Right is just fine with Freedom as long as Freedom is defined by Authority, including Authority with military gear. They support the right to carry assault weapons to shop at Home Depot  but are not so sympathetic to unarmed black men being killed by cops or some neighborhood watch play-pretend sheriff.

True colors, I say.

No Ideological Battle?

By this time next year the presidential primary campaigns are going to be getting serious. A lot can happen in a year. Candidates with early media buzz often fall apart. I refuse to predict anything now. Still, it’s getting a little late for someone we don’t already know to get traction and become a serious contender.

So who are we stuck with? The GOP, according to this article, has Paul, Cruz, Christie, Perry, Walker, Rubio, and Jeb Bush in the first tier, but each of these guys has some kind of big oozing liability going on. Governors Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence and John Kasich are possibilities if the first tier falls apart. Jindal is his own liability, although I haven’t spent much time looking at Pence and Kasich. There’s even some buzz about Mitt Romney running again. Good luck getting a personality transplant, dude.

But the Democratic possibilities depress me. I don’t want Hillary Clinton. I rarely hear from anyone who does.Yet I keep hearing she is popular! But with who, I wonder?

This article talks about five potential challengers to Clinton. And who are they?

We all love Liz Warren. The entire progressive Left would take a bullet for Warren. But she says she’s not running.

I have mixed feelings about Joe Biden. I like him, but I don’t have a strong sense of what sort of President he might be.

I keep hearing great things through the grapevine about Martin O’Malley, but if he wants it he’s got to start making a bigger splash.

I love Bernie Sanders, but he’s not really a Dem, and of all the possibilities I think he’d be the weakest general election candidate, I’m afraid.

Russ Feingold? Really? The article says he’s not been on anyone radar of late. There’s a reason for that. He’s flaked out on us once too often.

Martin “Booman” Longman brings up Al Gore. Out of politics for too long, I say. Martin says O’Malley hasn’t caught fire with the grassroots, but I think that’s because they don’t know who he is.  If we assume Liz Warren really isn’t running, then of this entire field he’s in the best position to offer himself as the I’m Not Hillary candidate. But he’s got to make more noise.

Are we really going to just sit down and hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton? Martin writes,

Is the left even in the mood to have an ideological battle in 2016? Perhaps there is some appetite for it, but I haven’t seen it reflected in our elected leaders. The Republicans are acting so badly that the left has united in response and reaction.

Personally, I’d be up for an ideological battle, but I am not going to lie to you and say that I see many people by my side.

But, dammit, we should be having an ideological battle. Now is the time progressives ought to be pushing the the Democrats as far left as they can be pushed. Hillary Clinton does not reflect many of our values. Why aren’t we fighting about this? I honesty don’t understand.

The Derp Also Rises

There is more unrest and turmoil in Ferguson today after the pathologically clueless Police Chief Thomas Jackson yesterday released a video that allegedly shows the deceased teenager, Michael Brown, stealing cigars from a convenience store, implying that this somehow justified or excused the teenager’s death. Several have pointed out that there was no way the officer who shot Michael Brown would have known he was a shoplifting suspect, assuming that he was.

This guy Jackson seriously needs to get completely out of the law enforcement business. Even if the video shows this — the snip of the video I saw didn’t — Police Chief Terminal Derp Jackson could have not released it to the public just yet while the situation in Ferguson is still fragile. Waiting a few days would have been nice. He could have shared it with investigators, and eventually to juries, fine. But releasing it to the public at this time was absolutely unnecessary and served no purpose other than to piss people off. And the Justice Department had asked Chief Derp to not release it.

My impression from some news stories is that there are gangs of looters who are a separate crew from the actual protesters, and some news stories have photos of young men identified as protesters who are guarding businesses to protect them from looters.

Rick Perry Indicted

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been indicted on abuse of power charges. Heh.

For the sake of fairness let us acknowledge that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being investigated for doing something similar to what Perry is accused of doing, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Cuomo is guilty. If Cuomo is indicted, I bet it won’t happen until after the September primary, where he faces a more progressive challenger. But that’s another post.

For background [on the Perry indictment], see Think Progress and a somewhat more cautious analysis from Texas Monthly.

A Rare Moment of Almost Agreement

I’m pleasantly surprised that so much of the Right appears to agree that the police in Ferguson were out of control. There was a time that anything cops did in a black neighborhood got an automatic seal of approval, so that’s something.

There also appears to be a broad consensus that it’s a really bad idea to give military surplus equipment to police departments. I learned from TPM that this practice began in 1992, so there’s no point blaming the current crew in Washington about it. But we can demand that it end.

Even though there is broad agreement that militarizing cops is a bad idea, there is still a lot of denial about the root causes of police violence in Ferguson and elsewhere. Rand Paul primarily blames Big Government, for example. (To his credit, Paul does make one mention of “racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”) But it wasn’t Big Government that gave some Ferguson cop the notion that it’s okay to shoot and kill an unarmed black man who, according to eyewitnesses, had raised his hands.

And do remember that the bullets that killed Michael Brown were fired from a standard police revolver, not some military assault weapon. Steve M reminds us of recent and notorious incidents of police brutality in which cops used just their hands.

I’m not going to say it’s all cops or all police departments. But there does seem to be a widespread pattern of racism and, shall we say, poor impulse control in many of our nation’s police departments. And that will still be true if we take away their military equipment.

According to some on the Right, however, we are not to speak of race or engage in dialog about problems based in racism at all, because doing that is just shameless pandering and politicizing. Power Tool Paul Mirengoff says,

[Rand] Paul uses the occasion of the Brown tragedy to say that “given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” But Paul makes no attempt to show that the disparities in question — presumably pertaining to conviction rates — are the result of “government targeting,” as opposed to disparities in the commission of crimes. Blacks may feel targeted, but U.S. Senators shouldn’t lend credibility to that feeling by disparaging our justice system unless they provide meaningful analysis to back it up.

The fact that we’ve seen several recent incidents of white police harming and killing black men who were not committing crimes seems to have escaped Mirengoff’s notice. Or else he think the actions of “bad cops” don’t count as “government targeting.” But police are agents of government, and in too many police department there’s a pattern of police engaging in racial “targeting” behavior and not being held accountable for it. So in my book, government ultimately is responsible.

And that means we are ultimately responsible.

Yesterday Governor Nixon finally acted and turned command of the police over to the head of the state highway patrol, Captain Ronald Johnson, a native of Ferguson. By all accounts Ferguson is now less militarized and more peaceful.

Bipartisan Non-Leadership

Yesterday Paul Waldman asked why libertarians are not talking about Ferguson.

Senator Rand Paul, right now America’s most prominent libertarian (yes, I know, some don’t consider him a real libertarian), hasn’t said anything about the case — no public comments, no news releases, nothing on Twitter, nothing on Facebook. I contacted his office just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything, and a press staffer told me they have no statement at this time. I also called the office of Rep. Justin Amash, known as the purest libertarian in the House, and got the same answer: he hasn’t said anything about it, and they have no statement to make. How about mustachioed libertarian TV personality John Stossel? Just a couple of weeks ago he was writing about the militarization of the police. He hasn’t said a peep about Ferguson.

Reason magazine defended Paul and Amash, thus: “Neither, it should be noted, represents Ferguson, Missouri, and neither is a member of the Libertarian Party.” So neither Paul nor Amash are real libertarians, then. And Nancy Pelosi hasn’t said anything about Ferguson, either; nyah nyah nyah. I assume that’s true, and there’s a good argument that politicians who don’t represent Ferguson have to be careful what they say about it.

The Blaze reported disgust that the President was at a party in Martha’s Vinyard as violence raged in Ferguson. The FBI is involved in the Michael Brown shooting investigation, so now the President has to maintain some distance, too, I would think. If he were to inject himself into the situation and the FBI investigation resulted in indictments against Ferguson police, many people could jump to many ugly conclusions, especially considering the President and Attorney General are black.

Another libertarian apologist, Ilya Somin, points out that libertarian spokespeople such as Radley Balko have been at the forefront of speaking out against the war on drugs. But I wasn’t aware the situation in Ferguson had any connection to drugs. Why does Somin reflexively connect “violence in a black community” to “drugs,” hmmm?

I realize the “war on drugs” has a connection to the militarization of the police, but so does the “war on terror.” Hysteria over foreign terrorism and illegal immigration probably has more to do with it than the war on drugs, actually. See Bill Moyers

The “war on terror” has come home — and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police.

The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. While police forces across the country began a process of militarization — complete with SWAT teams and flash-bang grenades — when President Reagan intensified the “war on drugs,” the post-9/11 “war on terror” has added fuel to the fire.

Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

But what about the politicians who do represent or govern Ferguson? It has to be said that the governor of Missouri, a Democrat, has been largely MIA about Ferguson. I don’t follow state politics any more and have no sense of where Gov. Jay Nixon is on anything. I see he is from DeSoto, in Jefferson County, which is very poor, rural and white, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I grew up in an adjacent county which was also rural and white, although slightly less poor. Also, Ferguson is represented in Congress by Lacy Clay, a Democrat, who from what I can see hasn’t said much about the violence either.

Missouri’s senators are Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D). Blunt has made vague noises supportive of the police. McCaskill has called for a fair investigation and is supposed to speak with the Attorney General about it today, so that’s something.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who represents Ferguson in Jefferson City, appears to be a little more proactive. She’s at least nudging Gov. Nixon to step up, and she’s been critical of the police. I don’t know anything about the politics of the mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles, who seems not to be in charge.

The larger point is that neither party gets bragging rights on this. However, I really would expect the fire-breathing libertarians in Congress to be a little more vocal. Just for consistency’s sake, you know.

Ferguson: Police Are Out of Control

From where I grew up St. Louis was the nearest city. After moving away I often told people I grew up “near St. Louis” even though it wasn’t that near, actually. It’s just that St. Louis was the closest place to where I grew up anyone who isn’t from there has heard of.

It’s been many years since I’ve been in downtown St. Louis or seen any part of St. Louis County other than the airport, so I can’t say I know it at all any more. But I can’t say I’m surprised at what’s happening in Ferguson. I imagine it’s the worst of a lot of worlds — a community still suffering from the lingering effects of Jim Crow and unequal opportunity; a police force with big city equipment and rural southern sensibilities. In the Heat of the Night meets Robocop.

And now the cops are out of control. I’m sure that’s not how a lot of people see it, but that’s how I see it. Joan Walsh writes,

“This looks like a textbook case of what not to do,” Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told Lawrence O’Donnell.

On the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, it’s important to remember that the famous Kerner Commission established to look at 1960s urban upheavals found that virtually every “riot” was triggered by police brutality — and that has continued in our own time, from the so-called “Rodney King riots” in 1992 through today. On MSNBC Ifill indicted the failures of police training and culture that led not only to the killing of Michael Brown, but also the overreaction to every night of protests.

But Ifill also made the important point that the militarization of the Ferguson police is something entirely new and enormously disturbing. The images Wednesday night should wake all of us up to the alarming militarization of local cops all over the country. How did a local police department get tanks and trucks and body armor that look like it all was designed for the streets of Baghdad and not a little city outside St. Louis?

As Walsh says, political leadership seems entirely absent, and the out-of-control cops are arresting reporters guilty of charging up their laptops at a McDonald’s. Yep, this should wake all of us up. Probably won’t, though.

Justice Delayed

Yesterday a 25-year-old African American man identified as Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the Los Angeles Police Department. His family says he was shot in the back while complying with police orders.

Ferguson, Missouri is still on edge after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, also African American, who was shot by Ferguson police for reasons that are under dispute. Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, 22, was an eyewitness and said Brown was shot after he had put his hands up. Johnson also disputes the police version of the incident, that says Brown had grabbed for the police officer’s weapon. No one in law enforcement bothered to take a statement from Johnson until today.

Here in New York, it’s been three weeks since Eric Garner died of a chokehold administered by police. On August 1, the medical examiner declared that the death was a homicide. The district attorney will still not say if any further action will be taken. At least in New York, the Mayor is not making excuses for the police.

We do seem to have a problem here, don’t we?

Democracy’s Self-Destruct Button?

There’s a Taoist view that all compounded things carry within themselves the seeds of their own self-destruction. This is a fancy way of saying what goes up must come down, with the understanding that the ultimate cause of the coming down is intrinsic to the going up. I can’t say whether that’s always true, but it’s an interesting point to contemplate.

Americans value free speech. It’s one of the things people across the political spectrum agree on, or say they do. We may disagree on what constitutes actual censorship or whether speech should be free from consequences, but we all value the right of individuals to say any damnfool thing they want, by any means, as long as they aren’t disturbing the peace or somehow putting people in danger — shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, for example.

Political campaign advertisements have never been famous for candor or veracity. But it seems to me we’ve hit a perfect storm of circumstances in which our cherished value of free speech could be our undoing. Citizens United; extreme wealth concentrated in the hands of a few people with extreme views and no scruples; Fox News; media technology that quickly spreads unfiltered disinformation to targeted audiences — these things have contributed to an unprecedented corruption of political discourse.

Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” These days lies can circle the globe several times while stealing truth’s shoes and putting a bag over truth’s head.

And it appears we’re helpless to do anything about it. For example, Ohio has a False Statement Law that makes it a crime to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a political candidate. In 2010 the right-wing anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List tried to run ads saying Democrat Rep. Steven Driehaus, running for re-election, supported “taxpayer-funded abortions” because he voted for Obamacare. And, of course, the ACA doesn’t provide tax funds for abortions, so that’s a lie. The Susan B. Anthony List sued the state for interfering with its members’ rights to free speech, and this spring the SCOTUS ruled that SBA had standing to sue. The ACLU itself filed an amici brief supporting SBA’s position. SBA may eventually lose the suit, but I wouldn’t count on it. Driehaus lost the election, btw.

And I’m saying our system of government is being choked to death by untrammeled “free speech.”

Paul Krugman brought up another example. Respected climate scientist Michael Mann published scientific findings the Right found inconvenient. But since they couldn’t dispute the science fair and square, they initiated a lie campaign aiming to smear and discredit Mann any way they could.

Mann, as some of you may know, is a hard-working scientist who used indirect evidence from tree rings and ice cores in an attempt to create a long-run climate record. His result was the famous “hockey stick” of sharply rising temperatures in the age of industrialization and fossil fuel consumption. His reward for that hard work was not simply assertions that he was wrong — which he wasn’t — but a concerted effort to destroy his life and career with accusations of professional malpractice, involving the usual suspects on the right but also public officials, like the former Attorney General of Virginia.

National Review columnist Mark Steyn was doing a particularly rigorous job smearing Michael Mann. But Mann filed a defamation lawsuit against Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I’m not completely up to speed on all the twists and turns this suit has taken, but D.R. Tucker writes that National Review appears to be getting nervous it might lose. NR originally defended itself by presenting the court with the fraudulent arguments against Mann, which were easily and objectively shown to be lies. Now NR is backpedaling and saying they never claimed Mann’s findings were scientifically fraudulent, although they did, and that Steyn and NR had used the word “fraudulent” to mean something other than, you know, fraud. NR’s legal team appears desperate to avoid going to trial at all.

The Right continue to paint Michael Mann as hysterical and over-sensitive because he was upset that powerful forces colluded to destroy his career and discredit his life’s work. Yesterday Steyn filed an amicus brief in support of neither party — I didn’t know you could do that; doesn’t sound very amicus to me — that I have not read all the way through, but it appears to be arguing that all this legal stuff is crimping Steyn’s style and he wants them to get it over with already. Poor baby.