Posts tagged with "politics"

Like the man said, “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” A little bit of greed makes the economic system hum. Too much greed will make the whole system seize up.

Talking About Ferguson & Michael Brown



There are a lot of strange responses pouring out of the tubes of the internet regarding Michael Brown’s shooting and the protests in Ferguson (e.g. “Police have difficult jobs!; “Black-on-Black Crime!”; “What about White victims!?”; “But he might have robbed a convenience store!”; etc.).  Tensions have begun to ease, but this story will no doubt continue to be a visible as the investigation into Michael Brown’s death continues.  So I have decided to put together a list of talking points to address some of the stranger criticisms I’ve seen.  Please feel free to use this post as a resource to talk to people who don’t seem to understand why people got upset about Michael Brown’s Death, or about the official response to the Ferguson protests.  

"It’s About Race"

People are upset about Michael Brown’s death because there is a well-studied, documented tendency for police to resort to lethal force more quickly and more frequently against Black suspects than they do against similarly situated White suspects.  At the previous link, Law Professor Cynthia Lee states that “[a]lthough Blacks represent approximately 13 percent of the population in the United States, in [some] parts of the country they constitute 60 to 85 percent of the victims of police shootings.”  In practice, this means that White kids who do something stupid in America are more likely to be given an opportunity to go through the system, learn from their mistakes, and move on with their life.  Black kids who do something stupid, on the other hand, are more likely to be seriously injured or killed by police.  That’s why people are upset.  So even if it’s true that Michael Brown stole cigars from a convenience store, people still have a right to be angry.

"It’s About Double Standards" 

Some have deemed it appropriate to bring up “Black-on-Black” crime when discussing Michael Brown.  ”Black-on-Black” crime has nothing to do with Michael Brown’s shooting.  He was shot by a police officer, not a private citizen. This is relevant because, as indicated above, there ample evidence that police officers are more likely to use lethal force against Black suspects than White suspects.  Furthermore, to the extent that it couldbe relevant, there is no unique “Black-on-Black” crime epidemic.  86% of homicides against White victims involved White perpetrators, while 94% of Black homicides involve Black perpetrators.  In other words, the vast majority of violent crime is intra-racial.  There is nothing uniquely remarkable about “Black-on-Black” crime.  This is a double standard that people apply to Black communities because the media chooses to portray Black-on-Black violence as a unique problem, despite the fact that White homicide victims are also likely to be killed by a White perpetrator.

At this point some may deem it relevant to bring up the fact that Black intra-racial homicides occur at a greater per capita rate than White intra-racial homicides.  While this is true, it’s still not relevant to Michael Brown’s shooting.  Again, we’re talking about a police shooting, where there are different variables at play.  The circumstances under which police initiate violence against a private citizen are often different than the circumstances under which private citizens initiate violence against each other.  

But to the extent that it could be relevant, the higher rate of violence in Black communities is largely a function of structural poverty, which is often caused by aggressive law enforcement of fine-bearing violations in poor communities, and also by the economic incentives created by the Drug War.  Aggressive enforcement of fine-bearing violations drains drains economic capital from poor communities, while aggressive enforcement and punishment of non-violent drug offenses destroys economic opportunity.  This creates a vicious cycle in poor communities, where the stigma of a criminal conviction can make it difficult to find adequate employment.  This in turn creates a situation where criminal activity is often the only way out of poverty for many residents of poor communities, or to make ends meet on a short-term basis during periods of extended unemployment.  One former drug dealer put it this way:

Well.. I’m 24, i sell drugs (prescriptions are my specialty) and its because I lost a good job, i have a 3 week old daughter, a wife (who doesn’t make shit) and a house- if I don’t sell, i loose it all. its not about an ‘ipod or sneakers’ its about paying bills, and buying formula…

Since participants in the drug market obviously cannot rely on the police or the courts to enforce their commercial exchanges, they must resort to violence.  As a practical matter, this means a lot of people wind up getting shot, since there is no system for determining civil liability, or legal tools to enforce economic obligations.  In civil society, violence is diffused by a civil court system that offers dispute resolution by allowing uninterested third parties to determine questions of fact, and provide common standards by which to resolve disputes.  In the underground drug market, this system of dispute resolution is off-limits.  So every dispute must instead be solved with the threat of violence, which has predictable consequences.  

This type of aggressive policing, which creates this underground economy is not practiced in most majority-White communities.  Drug enforcement in particular tends to be focused in poor Black communities, despite the fact that surveys show that Whites and Blacks use illicit drugs at similar rates.  If suburban White communities were having economic capital drained by aggressive enforcement of fine-bearing violations, and economic opportunities denied by the criminal records which accompany aggressive law enforcement, you would probably see a similar increase in the per capita rate of violent crime in many White communities as well.  But typically, this only happens in poor Black communities, so its poor Black communities where these dynamics play out.  In other words, the higher rate of per capita violent crime in poor Black communities is a result of external forces being exerted on them by aggressive law enforcement practices in their communities.  It has much less to do with “Black culture” and much more to do with the economic incentives which aggressive law enforcement in Black communities has created.

But again, this really isn’t relevant to Michael Brown’s shooting.  So let’s move on.

"It’s About The Lack Of Consequences"

While police may have a rough job, they are also rarely held accountable when they break the law or violate peoples’ rights.  One person who studied officer-involved shootings in the State of Wisconsin found that “In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified.”  In New Jersey, Internal Affairs Divisions were recently found to dismiss 99% of all complaints against police officers.  A study of the Chicago police department published in 2008 found that “the odds are two in 1000 that a Chicago police officer will receive any meaningful discipline as a result of being charged with abusing a civilian,” or 0.2%.  

Police are often protected from criminal liability because prosecutors are afraid to alienate themselves from the police force.  Police can also escape civil liability for their actions through something called Qualified Immunity.  This is a legal doctrine created by the U.S. Supreme Court which allows a judge to provide public officials with immunity from lawsuits in situations where a Constitutional right is not “clearly established,” and a “reasonably prudent official” wouldn’t have known they were violating the Constitution.

Many former police officers have written about how common it is for police to look the other way when other officers break the law or violate someone’s rights.  Here is Mike Quinn, a retired Minneapolis police officer with 23 years of experience in law enforcement:

"In a nationally representative telephone survey of 925 randomly selected American police officers from 121 departments, 52.4 percent of the officers agreed, ‘it is not unusual for a police officer to turn a blind eye to improper conduct by other officers.” In that same study, 61 percent disagreed with the statement “Police officers always report serious criminal violations invoving abuse of authority by fellow officers.” A surprising 6 in 10 (60 percent) indicated that police officers do not always report even serious criminal violations that involve the abuse of authority by fellow officers. (Walking With the Devil, p. 4).”

Here’s Norman Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department:

"Cops lie…as any defense attorney (or candid supervisor or chief) will attest, a good deal of "bad lying" goes on in police work, by cops who don’t seem to know the meaning of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…Senior officers and peers were always making sure we “got our stories straight.”…I don’t remember actually lying on the stand. But I do remember composing some “creative” arrest reports. (Breaking Rank, p. 129, 133).

Here’s Juan Antonio Juarez, a former Chicago police officer:

"The Office of Professional Standards (OPS) documented a trend when dealing with complaints of official misconduct and excessive-force beefs lodged by the general public that increased over the years. This trend favors cops…David Fogel, the chief administrator of OPS, said in a 1987 memo: "The troops love OPS. It actually operates to immunize police from internal discipline, increases their overtime, leads to an enormous ‘paper storm,’ and has institutionalized lying. I have come ot the conclusion that OPS gives the appearance of formal justice but actually helps to institutionalize subterfuge and injustice.” (Brotherhood of Corruption, p. 286–87).

So while police may have a tough job, there is plenty of evidence that police have relative impunity for their mistakes and bad acts.  Most police can expect to be held accountable for precisely none of their bad decisions.  This lack of accountability upsets a lot of people, and is compounding the anger that many residents feel over what happened in Ferguson.

"It’s About The Media"

The national media have created a very inaccurate picture of what’s actually happening in Ferguson.  If you only follow national media outlets, you’d probably think that Ferguson is a “war zone” rife with violence and looting.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A private security contractor named Asymmetrical Solutions was recently hired by a professional journalist to escort the latter into Ferguson.  At the request of the journalist, Asymmetrical Solutions recorded their observations of the situation in Ferguson on its website:

In our time inside the Ferguson area, we came into ancillary contact with numerous demonstrators and protestors who did not seem to have any commitment to violence or chaos, but only wanted to peacefully have their opinion heard or report on the matters at hand. It seems a few bad actors are being treated as the whole.

The overwhelming majority of the protests have been peaceful.   Furthermore, many of the more gruesome injuries police have inflicted on protesters have not been covered by national news outlets.  Which brings me to my next point.

"It’s About The Disproportionate Response"

The reaction to protests has demonstrated the problem with a militarized police force: violence often begets more violence.  When Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson came to Ferguson, he did not have an APC, or tear gas, or an assault rifle.  He came in his regular uniform, and said that he would walk with the protesters to ensure both their safety and the safety of those around him.  Overnight, tensions eased.  But local police could not resist breaking out the tear gas and the armored vehicles once more, which unsurprisingly, led to more clashes with protesters, and more violence clashes with protesters.

At this point, some may point out the fact that the protesters are breaking a recently-imposed curfew, and the police are required to enforce the curfew by getting the protesters to disperse.  This brings me to my next point.

"It’s About Undermining The Foundation Of Democracy"

Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech are necessary to have a free society.  So is freedom of movement.  Law enforcement officials in Ferguson have arrested journalists, tear-gassed camera crews, implemented a no-fly zone over the city, and shut off road access to the city.  They have marched into private businesses and forced them to close.  They have also forced other private businesses to close by scaring customers away with an overwhelming police presence.  They implemented a curfew which made it unlawful to be present on a public street or sidewalk past midnight for any reason.  They have also threatened peaceful protesters and journalists with bodily harm.  

All of this is offensive to Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech.  Journalists should never be afraid to cover a news story because they are afraid of being arrested, injured, or killed by law enforcement.  Businesses should never be forced to close by police officers on the whims of law enforcement.  And law-abiding citizens should be able to come and go as they please, regardless of what time it is.  I should not be penalized from enjoying my liberty so that the job of police can be made a little easier.  The entire point of having police in the first place is to preserve the social benefits of civil society by enforcing the laws which have been put in place to preserve those benefits.  When the authorities begin using police power to deny those benefits to law-abiding citizens, they are undermining the Social Contract in a very fundamental way.


People are upset about Michael Brown’s death because it fits into a pattern of cases where police resort to lethal force more quickly against Black citizens than they do against White citizens.  They are upset because the media has selectively leaked portions of a surveillance tape that purports to show Michael brown robbing a convenience store, yet nobody has positively identified the person in the video as Michael Brown.  People are upset because this shooting takes place against the backdrop of a culture of impunity within law enforcement institutions across America, where even obvious, admitted misconduct is often met with a brief suspension at most.  People are upset because the police response to the protests has been overwhelming and excessive, and has actually encouraged more violence by making some of the protesters feel like they’re being oppressed and prevented from exercising their rights.  People are upset because the national media outlets are painting an inaccurate picture of the situation in Ferguson, which has led many people to assume that most of the protesters are violent criminals, which is not the case.  People are also upset because journalists are being arrested, tear-gassed, and various undemocratic strategies have been used to try to quell the protests, including a unilaterally imposed curfew and a no-fly zone.

So there are a lot of good reasons why people are upset.  When all the pieces fall into place, we may come to learn that Michael Brown did attack Officer Wilson, and that he used lethal force against Brown because Officer Wilson feared for his life.  But that hasn’t stopped numerous people from making unfounded assumptions about who Michael Brown is, what he has done, or what the motivations of the Officer who shot him were.  State prosecutors are getting ready to present evidence to a Grand Jury.  The fact that they even agreed to seek an indictment is enough to suggest that there’s probable cause to proceed against Officer Wilson for at least a negligent homicide.  But it is extremely important to remember that prosecutors may not have bothered to do this if it wasn’t for the public reaction to Michael Brown’s shooting.  More often than not, widespread protests are what it takes for victims of police shootings—especially Black victims—to even get their foot in the door of the justice system, much less a conviction.  If the protests have served no other purpose, they have motivated the authorities to take a serious look at whether Officer Wilson actually did anything wrong, which may not have happened in the absence of these protests.

This entire post goes well beyond being insightful. There are well-supported points made that extend far beyond the situation in Ferguson.

Link Want to run for political office? Don't work as a public defender first - ABA Journal


From the article:

An interesting tidbit about Hillary Clinton’s background you may not know:

Money quote:

If you ever wondered how mass incarceration got where it is today, you can thank the stigma behind working as a public defender.  ”Criminals” and “crime” are an easy way to stoke fear among the electorate.  Demonizing criminals is good politics.  Politicians convince people that criminals are an evil “other” out to harm you and your family.  You, on the other hand, are no criminal.  You’re a good, law-abiding citizen. Despite the fact that you’ve probably committed numerous federal felonies, violate traffic laws almost every day, and maybe you’ve even pirated a few songs or movies in your day—also a federal felony.

In reality, the only difference between a criminal and a law-abiding citizen is that the police decided to arrest the criminal.  But reality is not good for politics.  Making people resent public defenders because they “defend criminals,” however?  That’s good politics.  Unfortunately, it’s also terrible for society.

For emphasis:

In reality, the only difference between a criminal and a law-abiding citizen is that the police decided to arrest the criminal.

This cuts both ways through. Some times, the police decide to arrest the law-abiding citizen, and they don’t seem to really need to come up with a good reason at the time, they can always come up with a shitty one later, or so it would seem. In which case, the public defender doing his or her job to force the prosecutor, crime labs, detectives and police officers involved to do their fucking jobs is far nobler than many of the aforementioned attempting to lock away or punish somebody they think did it, without due diligence and/or due process, all in the name of a conviction record, maintaining a contract, or gaining the next promotion, respectively.

Hearing “she defended an accused rapist” is a horrible headline, designed to incite rather than inform, and its hard to be confused about which way the author (or their editor) leans when you read it. The key word in the sentence is “accused” though, and its a word that we as a society often skip when reading such things. You can be accused of a lot. But until you are found guilty, you are still innocent (this is to say nothing of the hundreds if not thousands who have been mistakenly found guilty and essentially lost the prime of their lives to such an atrocity).

Jun 7

The Four Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Inequality


Even though French economist Thomas Piketty has made an air-tight case that we’re heading toward levels of inequality not seen since the days of the nineteenth-century robber barons, right-wing conservatives haven’t stopped lying about what’s happening and what to do about it.

Herewith, the four biggest right-wing lies about inequality, followed by the truth.

Lie number one: The rich and CEOs are America’s job creators. So we dare not tax them.

The truth is the middle class and poor are the job-creators through their purchases of goods and services. If they don’t have enough purchasing power because they’re not paid enough, companies won’t create more jobs and economy won’t grow.

We’ve endured the most anemic recovery on record because most Americans don’t have enough money to get the economy out of first gear. The economy is barely growing and real wages continue to drop.

We keep having false dawns. An average of 200,000 jobs were created in the United States over the last three months, but huge numbers of Americans continue to drop out of the labor force.

Lie number two: People are paid what they’re worth in the market. So we shouldn’t tamper with pay.

The facts contradict this. CEOs who got 30 times the pay of typical workers forty years ago now get 300 times their pay not because they’ve done such a great job but because they control their compensation committees and their stock options have ballooned.

Meanwhile, most American workers earn less today than they did forty years ago, adjusted for inflation, not because they’re working less hard now but because they don’t have strong unions bargaining for them.

More than a third of all workers in the private sector were unionized forty years ago; now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union. 

Lie number three: Anyone can make it in America with enough guts, gumption, and intelligence. So we don’t need to do anything for poor and lower-middle class kids.

The truth is we do less than nothing for poor and lower-middle class  kids. Their schools don’t have enough teachers or staff, their textbooks are outdated, they lack science labs, their school buildings are falling apart.

We’re the only rich nation to spend less educating poor kids than we do educating kids from wealthy families. 

All told, 42 percent of children born to poor families will still be in poverty as adults – a higher percent than in any other advanced nation. 

Lie number four: Increasing the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs. So we shouldn’t raise it.

In fact, studies show that increases in the minimum wage put more money in the pockets of people who will spend it – resulting in more jobs, and counteracting any negative employment effects of an increase in the minimum. 

Three of my colleagues here at the University of California at Berkeley — Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich – have compared adjacent counties and communities across the United States, some with higher minimum wages than others but similar in every other way.

They found no loss of jobs in those with the higher minimums.

The truth is, America’s lurch toward widening inequality can be reversed. But doing so will require bold political steps.

At the least, the rich must pay higher taxes in order to pay for better-quality education for kids from poor and middle-class families. Labor unions must be strengthened, especially in lower-wage occupations, in order to give workers the bargaining power they need to get better pay. And the minimum wage must be raised. 

Don’t listen to the right-wing lies about inequality. Know the truth, and act on it. 


Let’s say you’re a family making $50,000, married with one child. Let’s also say you put 2 percent of your wages toward a 401(k), don’t itemize, and claim the Saver’s Credit and Child Tax Credit. This is what your tax receipt might look like. You’re paying $440 to have the finest military on the planet. You’re paying $9.59 on unemployment insurance. You’re paying $15.98 to ensure that the federal government can help you out if there’s a natural disaster that takes out your town. You’re also paying about $4,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes. 

The Details, plus more charts: How America Pays Taxes—in 10 Not-Entirely-Depressing Charts)

If only this could be a more real thing that the government were capable of doing…


Let’s say you’re a family making $50,000, married with one child. Let’s also say you put 2 percent of your wages toward a 401(k), don’t itemize, and claim the Saver’s Credit and Child Tax Credit. This is what your tax receipt might look like. You’re paying $440 to have the finest military on the planet. You’re paying $9.59 on unemployment insurance. You’re paying $15.98 to ensure that the federal government can help you out if there’s a natural disaster that takes out your town. You’re also paying about $4,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

The Details, plus more charts: How America Pays Taxes—in 10 Not-Entirely-Depressing Charts)

If only this could be a more real thing that the government were capable of doing…

Apr 2

Let’s put this in some context. Here are the Roberts Court’s major campaign finance rulings in the last few years:

*2007: FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life. The Court ruled that corporations could air ads discussing candidates in the weeks before election day.
*2008: Davis v. FEC. The Court struck down the “Millionaires Amendment” to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which raised the contribution limit for candidates facing self-financed opponents.
*2010: Citizens United v. FEC. The Court ruled that corporations and unions can spend as much as they want on campaigns, giving birth to the super PAC.
* 2011: Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s FreedomClub PAC v. Bennett. The Court struck down Arizona’s public finance system, in which candidates who entered the system got matching funds if they were outspent by privately funded opponents.

Every time this Court has confronted a question of campaign finance, where there is a conflict between the freedom of wealthy donors to do as they wish on one hand and the integrity of the system on the other, it has sided with the wealthy donors. Every time.

Apr 2

The Republican members of the committee made it clear that not only do they lack the slightest interest in addressing climate change but they are about as ignorant about the nuances of science as a stone. Leading the charge was Texas congressman Randy Weber:
Several members, for example, appeared to be trying to mock rather than engage Holdren on climate change. “I may want to get your cellphone number, Dr. Holdren,” said Representative Randy Weber (R–TX), “because, if we go through another few cycles of global warming and cooling, I may need to ask you when I should buy my long coat on sale.”
Weber, a freshman from the Galveston area, began his interrogation by asking Holdren whether “when you guys do your research, you start with a scientific postulate or theory and work forward from that? Is that right?” Holdren gamely played along, explaining that “it depends on the type of science, but the notion of posing a hypothesis and then trying to determine whether it is right is one of the tried and true approaches in science, yes.”
But Weber’s question was really just a setup for his concluding statement. “I just don’t know how you all prove those theories going back 50 or 100,000 or even millions of years,” Weber said.

Perhaps Weber also wants to discount theories in astronomy, cosmology and paleontology? After all even those theories are based on evidence going back millions of years. I don’t know Weber’s views on evolution but I would be hardly surprised if he turns out to be in favor of “teaching the controversy”.

The House of Representatives Committee on Science is turning into a national embarrassment (via wilwheaton)

Embarrassing yes. But the bigger concern is how dangerous it is.

Apr 2

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down limits on the total amount a person can donate to various political campaigns in a single election season. However, the court left intact the limit on how much an individual can give to any single candidate.

"We conclude that the aggregate limits on contributions do not further the only governmental interest this court accepted as legitimate," said Chief Justice John Roberts, referring to a 1976 ruling. "They instead intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to express the most fundamental First Amendment activities."

The divided 5-4 ruling could have an immediate impact on November’s congressional midterm elections, and add another layer of high-stakes spending in the crowded political arena.

CNN Breaking News.

Money is not speech. The interests of a millionaire do not overlap with the interests of somebody making $40,000 a year. Allowing the millionaire to grease whatever political skids he wants, while not allowing the average joe the same opportunity, is not something our government should be enabling.

Its nice to know that companies are broke and don’t have any money because “the economy”. Except for the giving of hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative candidates to fund campaigns for the midterms this fall…they have money for that.

Feb 8

Link SB 326: Making Indiana a Front on the War on the War on Christmas

Legally, I don’t see that this legislation does any particular damage, but I guess I regard its passage as symbolically questionable.

But its one of those dumbass laws that the conservative constituents across the state will look at and go “oh dear me, my representative sure does care about us and our beliefs!”

There are times when I really hate this state as a whole.