Dog Day Afternoon: The Militarization Of American Police

I took great exception to President Obama’s conduct in the Henry Louis Gates false arrest case in Cambridge Massachusetts. See here and here. The reason I objected so strenuously is that there is a long growing problem in this country with the militarization of, and militancy by, police officers and the way Obama interjected himself into the matter prevented a valuable chance to publicly address the issue.

Courtesy of a chilling opinion piece slated for Sunday’s Washington Post authored by Cheye M. Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights Maryland, we have another poignant reminder:

I remember thinking, as I kneeled at gunpoint with my hands bound on my living room floor, that there had been a terrible, terrible mistake.

An errant Prince George’s County SWAT team had just forced its way into our home, shot dead our two black Labradors, Payton and Chase, and started ransacking our belongings as part of what would become a four-hour ordeal.

The police found nothing, of course, to connect my family and me to a box of drugs that they had been tracking and had delivered to our front door. The community — of which I am mayor — rallied to our side. A FedEx driver and accomplice were arrested in a drug trafficking scheme. Ultimately, we were cleared of any wrongdoing, but not before the incident drew international outrage.

You may remember this incident from the summer of 2008. It was, and is, a brutal reminder of the awesome power the police exercise, and the casual belligerence and impunity with which they all too often abuse it. Mayor Calvo hits the problem on the head:

Yet, I remain captured by the broader implications of the incident. Namely, that my initial take was wrong: It was no accident but rather business as usual that brought the police to — and through — our front door.

In the words of Prince George’s County Sheriff Michael Jackson, whose deputies carried out the assault, "the guys did what they were supposed to do" — acknowledging, almost as an afterthought, that terrorizing innocent citizens in Prince George’s is standard fare. The only difference this time seems to be that the victim was a clean-cut white mayor with community support, resources and a story to tell the media.

What confounds me is the unmitigated refusal of county leaders to challenge law enforcement and to demand better — as if civil rights are somehow rendered secondary by the war on drugs.

Calvo goes on to explain how not only did the police abuse Read more

The Wind Takes The Lion: RIP Senator Edward M. Kennedy

images1.thumbnail.jpegIt was only a few days ago we learned Teddy Kennedy was thinking about his succession for his long held Senate seat from Massachusetts. The day has come too soon.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy has passed. "Teddy" was the senior Senator from Massachusetts and has so served in office since November 1962. Kennedy was in his eighth full (and ninth overall) term in the Senate and was the second most senior member of the Senate and the third-longest-serving senator of all time.

Senator Kennedy was born on February 22, 1932 and passed on August 25, 2009 at age 77 at his family home at Hyannis Port Masachusetts.

From Reuters:

One of the most influential and longest-serving senators in U.S. history — a liberal standard-bearer who was also known as a consummate congressional dealmaker — Kennedy had been battling brain cancer, which was diagnosed in May 2008.

Known as "Teddy," he was the brother of President John Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, Senator Robert Kennedy, fatally shot while campaigning for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, and Joe Kennedy, a pilot killed in World War Two.

UPDATE: Boston Globe: Statement from the Kennedy Family

"Edward M. Kennedy — the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply — died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port.

"We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.

"We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.

"He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it.

"He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him."

UPDATE #2: Here is the full New York Times obituary, and it is very thorough.

A Chebby In The National Driveway & Lesson In Healthcare Messaging

24365333-d0ce332479a4cfa5f9580b59294330344a8c6481-scaled.thumbnail.jpgBarack Obama is bad and he’s nationwide. And he’s got a brand new ride. Check out the sled he has rolled up in the driveway of the South Portico of the White House (image by Mark Knoller). I guess when you own GM it ain’t that hard to get a Chevrolet.

Say what you will about NASCAR, they are the absolute masters of brilliant product placement, fan involvement and brand messaging. They never miss an opportunity, and always have the discipline, to be on message, be consistent, sell their ideology and run a forceful and effective PR ship. Today, that ruthless efficiency was brought to the White House and Barack Obama. From the LA Times:

Wednesday afternoon President Obama appeared live on the ESPN2 show "NASCAR Now." The show originated from the White House because three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was being honored for, well, being a NASCAR champion, on the South Lawn of the White House.

"NASCAR Now" host Nicole Manske and talented analyst Brad Daugherty grilled our president about who might win the Sprint Cup championship this year and what he thought about Johnson. We were rewarded with a penetrating answer to that question that included the quote: "He looks like a pretty young guy."

Like I said, brilliant. NASCAR got their champion driver, Jimmy Johnson, in the White House, rolled his #48 Rick Hendrick Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet Impala up for some glamor shots and prime video footage and they managed to get it all covered by ESPN for their proprietary NASCAR show, NASCAR Now.

Now that, folks, is how you sell your product. Were it only that the Barack Obama White House had a fraction of these skills in selling their national healthcare policy. Not so much. In fact, it has been an astoundingly flimsy and ill conceived pitch almost from the start, and we still don’t know what in the world Obama and the White House really stand for on the topic. As Adam Green at Open Left put it:

One could parse, and say Rahm’s quote could still include the possibility of bipartisanship, but still: there’s something called message discipline. The last four days have seen: statement, backtrack, statement, backtrack.

Seriously. Can someone describe for me some master plan that might be at play here? If not, White House communications team — WTF?

No kidding. As Adam noted, Jon Stewart sums it up beautifully:

Mr. Read more

The Poetry Of Detroit Auto

Danny Heitman has a quirkily fascinating op-ed up in the New York Times on the attempt in the mid to late 50s by Ford Motor Company to enlist a poet laureate to help sell its products:

The question is brought to mind by the story of Marianne Moore, the famous American writer, who served for a brief season as the Ford Motor Company’s unofficial poet laureate.

A Ford executive wrote that the company was launching “a rather important new series of cars,” but his team was stumped to think of a name for the latest product line. Could Moore, an icon of American letters, help them out?

Moore embraced the assignment with relish, not surprising for a poet who enjoyed — and whose writing was frequently inspired by — popular culture, whether it be baseball, boxing or bric-a-brac. The correspondence became a cultural fixture of its own after it was published in The New Yorker two years later.

These days, poetry and commerce are rarely on such good speaking terms. Poetry doesn’t sell well, and poets almost never attain the celebrity that touched Moore, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg half a century ago. If some Detroit executive got the bright idea to consult a poet for marketing advice today, one rather doubts he’d know whom to call.

It’s nice to think that the two groups — poets and carmakers — might find new relevance through collaboration, but history is not encouraging.

I share Heitman’s conclusion that such a collaboration is probably not in the offing in today’s society and marketplace. I think, however, Detroit is going to rebound with a different kind of poetry.

Poetry in motion.

If Detroit is to rebound, it will not be from fancy words or catchy phrases to hawk their products; it will be from engineering excellence, desirable design and competitive, if not superlative, production values. They are much further along this path than many people give them credit for being though.

The Ford Fusion and Fusion Hybrid, Ford Focus, Ford Escape and Escape Hybrid, and the new Ford Taurus are all absolutely killer vehicles, both on their own and compared with foreign competitors. These cars are all world class in their segments. Add them to the always top of the segment Ford Truck line, especially the F-150, and you have a company that is here to stay and ready to take on all comers.

Financially, Ford had the jump on the old GM; Ford leveraged Read more

The Cost Of Obama’s Beer Fest Failure Is More Tasered Moms

I wrote a series of posts about the incident surrounding Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. First, it was an illegal and unconstitutional arrest because of the abuse of police power and discretion. Second, irrespective of whether it was a racially motivated moment, it was one from which serious discussion could, and should, ensue. Third, that it was a teaching moment being given short shrift by the clumsy way Barack Obama inserted himself into it and then tried to extricate himself through the bogus "beer summit".

The thing that got me up in arms, from the start, is the undeniable fact that Gates’ arrest was illegal and an abuse of police power. As I described, take Gates’ conduct at its worst as described by the Cambridge police report, and the conduct simply does not meet the elements of disorderly conduct as arrested and charged on under the Massachusetts statute. There was no probable cause or legal basis for the arrest; it was simply a case of contempt of cop, and Sergeant Crowley decided to use the time honored police way of dealing with citizens in such situations, he abused his authority and badge by arresting the citizen.

The only thing unique about the Gates case is that it ended without serious harm to the citizen and it pierced the national conscience. The same base conduct plays out every minute of every day somewhere in the US. But the Gates/Crowley moment appears to have been lost without any intelligent discussion of the rampant abuse of police power and authority. Save for the opinions of Jonathan Turley and Jeff Toobin, which were minimized by MSNBC and CNN television coverage, there was precious little recognition by major media outlets of the root point of police power abuse.

Well, the scene in the video attached hereto is what happens in a society that refuses to address overreaching authoritarianism and unrestrained police projection. Moms with kids in minivans get Tasered and roughed up. In front of their children. Why? Because the cops can with relative impunity. The "Blue Line" circles the wagons around their fellow officers, prosecutors need their cooperation for prosecution and trials in actual major cases, and politicians are too cravenly worried about their next election to care. As Digby says:

If this is what they do when they have a video camera rolling Read more

Woodstock: 40 Years Down The Road And A Nation Lost

Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, Tell me, where are you going?
This he told me

Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.

As you may have heard, we are on the precipice of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. The famous, and infamous, cultural milestone took place down on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm outside of Bethel New York between August 15 and August 18, 1969. Thirty-two acts performed, during a sometimes rainy weekend, in front of nearly half a million concertgoers. The history and lore of Woodstock began immediately, it was clear to both those who loved it, and those who hated it, that it was a uniquely seminal moment.

Well, then can I roam beside you?
I have come to lose the smog,
And I feel myself a cog in somethin’ turning.
And maybe it’s the time of year,
Yes and maybe it’s the time of man.
And I don’t know who I am,
But life is for learning.

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Something had happened. Something big and transformational. But what? The prevailing view seems to be that it was a symbol of the discord and unrest of the 60’s, the antiwar movement and the counterculture generation. It is also viewed as the ultimate example of the peace and love motif of "the hippies". I wonder about all that; in fact, I am more inclined to the view expressed by Jon Pareles in a great article in the New York Times:

Yet for all the benign memories, Woodstock also set in motion other, more crass impulses. While its immediate aftermath was amazement and relief, the festival’s full legacy had as much to do with excess as with idealism. As the decades roll by, the festival seems more than ever like a fluke: a moment of muddy, disheveled, incredulous grace. It was as much an endpoint as a beginning, a holiday of naïveté and dumb luck before the realities of capitalism resumed. Woodstock’s young, left-of-center crowd — nice kids, including students, artists, workers and politicos, as well as full-fledged L.S.D.-popping hippies — was quickly recognized as a potential army of consumers that mainstream merchants would not underestimate Read more

Death Panels From Bad Legislation

[Marcy is tending bar for Glenn Greenwald today over at Salon and has a wonderful piece on John Brennan and resultant bad policy in the Obama Administration. Please give her a visit – bmaz]

Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom (England), and even Venezuela. What do all these developed first order modern countries have in common?

They abolished the death penalty. Conspicuously absent of course is the United States. We are the only country in the Americas, whether North or South, that utilizes the death penalty in anything other than declared war exceptional circumstances. The conspicuousness of the US on the world death penalty map is chilling in terms of who we are aligned with in our beliefs; and it isn’t what might be referred to as the enlightened group of nations.

What is the purpose of the death penalty in a modern society at this point? Sure isn’t deterrence. In an article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Dr. Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University writes,

There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that [shows that executions] can exert a deterrent effect…. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions. To accept it uncritically invites errors that have the most severe human costs.

In accord are John Donnohue and Justin Wolfers in an article entitled "The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence", where the authors conclude claims that the death penalty saves lives and acts as a deterrent "are simply not credible." Are there studies to the contrary? Yes, and they are debunked in the above studies and evaluations, as well as in any number of others.

It is not for purposes of financial efficiency either; the death penalty is hideously expensive for the states and nation. When I first began my legal career, the data consistently showed that litigating and executing death penalty cases, as opposed to non-capital punishment treatment (including life imprisonment), was severely more expensive. That is still the case. From the CSM:

This year, state budgetary crises have given death penalty opponents their most successful argument yet – money.

Administering the death penalty is breathtakingly expensive. Contrary to popular opinion, it costs substantially more to execute people than to send them to prison for the rest of their lives.

In California, which houses the nation’s largest death row, it costs about $137 million annually to maintain the state’s death penalty system. The state has conducted only Read more

21st Century Hate

I was noodling around the intertoobz tonight, and was struck by the thought that the concept of "American Exceptionalism" may refer to our ability to bring teh stupid.

First up to bat are the down with brown anti-immigrant numbskulls. From the Los Angeles Times:

Walt Staton wanted to help people, and his tool was a water jug. On the morning of Dec. 4, he and three others drove southwest from Tucson, to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which tens of thousands of illegal immigrants traverse each year.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the plastic jugs he left for the immigrants endanger wildlife, and this week Staton was sentenced in federal court in Tucson on a charge of littering. He was given one year of unsupervised probation and ordered to spend 300 hours picking up trash.

The sentence, however, does not quite capture the emotions surrounding the case — yet another testament to the volatility of the illegal immigration debate in Arizona. Prosecutors had asked for a $5,000 fine and five years’ probation. Staton, for his part, had insisted on a trial, rather than pay a $175 fine.

In recent months, as the legal proceedings progressed, each side has essentially accused the other of staging a show trial to bolster its view of U.S. border policy.

Staton, a 27-year-old Web designer and soup kitchen volunteer, viewed his actions as humanitarian. As he had done for five years with the faith-based aid group No More Deaths, Staton in December lugged water up hills and through scrub to remote, migrant-carved trails. Only this time, when he and his comrades returned from leaving eight jugs at their last stop, authorities were waiting, and he was cited by a Fish and Wildlife Service officer.

This is just sick. The Federal government, through the Arizona US Attorney’s Office, egged on by the anti-immigration movement, which is very vocal in Tucson and Southern Arizona, got a burr up its butt and spent over $50,000 to prosecute this heinous criminal who took time away from his volunteer work at a soup kitchen to try to keep some human beings from dehydrating to death in the desert. Littering. The brown hating Lou Dobbs crowd makes a lot of noise and bring a lot of pressure in Tucson and parts due south. I guess they got a trophy Dobbs can crow about now. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on here?

Next, from my local rag, the Arizona Republic, comes the nay on gay ganglion for brains bunch up in Utah:

A southern Utah newspaper has rejected a gay California couple’s wedding announcement, saying its policy is to publish announcements only Read more

This Bud Is For You Mental Midgets Of The Media

obama-beerThere are three irreducible minimums emanating from the arrest of Henry Louis Gates at his home in Cambridge Massachusetts. First, it was an illegal and unconstitutional arrest because of the abuse of police power and discretion. Second, it may or may not (my inclination is not, at least at the outset) have been a racially motivated moment; either way it is one from which serious discussion could, and should, ensue. Third, it is an event that has become embedded in the national consciousness from which the nation could learn and grow as one.

Despite the above, the trained Skinner rats in the national media have glommed onto the most trivial and inane aspects to convey to the public audience. To half wit USA Today:

We guess this qualifies as breaking news.

President Obama will drink Bud Light at the Thursday meeting with the African-American professor and white police officer who got in a dust-up earlier this month. Press secretary Robert Gibbs just made the announcement to the press pool on Air Force One.

The full menu looks set. Sgt. James Crowley, whose arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates at his home, touched off the incident, has indicated a preference for Blue Moon. Gates has said he likes Red Stripe.

"So we’ll have the gamut covered tomorrow afternoon," Gibbs said.

Walter Cronkite is barely in his grave and already he is rolling over. And ABC News doubles down on the boys’ brews. Here is the AP with the same basic drivel. And Bloomberg. The Pulitzer Prize material is front and center at every news source imaginable as well as the cable and broadcast outlets.

The only teachable moment we are going to be treated to out of the lofty potential available from the moment is to learn once again what lowest common denominator dregs we have in the American media and what little they think of the American national intelligence and conscience. Quite frankly, President Obama has not acquitted himself well in leading here either.

What is really on tap for tomorrow’s "teachable moment"? The Washington Post (probably piqued they cannot turn the event into a "Salon") sets the social table:

Gates and Crowley will gather for a beer and chat with President Obama at a picnic table outside the Oval Office as the sun sets Thursday. The president has called the incident a "teachable moment," but the trio is not expected to Read more

Media Failure: Gates And Crowley Need To Personally Lead

Yesterday morning I posted (Henry Louis Gates’ Contempt Of Cop) on the legal implications of the Henry Louis Gates arrest thrust into the national consciousness by President Obama with his response to a question at Wednesday night’s prime time healthcare press conference. The discussion here was outstanding, however in the major media forums of print, and especially television news and talk programming, the situation has devolved and cleaved into the all too predictable he said/she said pitting of one side versus the other. Left versus right. White versus black. Conservative versus liberal. Law and order versus criminal. Yadda, yadda yadda.

In short, what passes for media and journalism in this country today has failed the public audience it is supposed to serve. Again. A disappointing, but certainly not shocking result.

None of us, and none of the chattering media, were there at the Crowley-Gates scene, but we never really are for these moments in life and history; we still learn and live vicariously through them. By no means was Gates’ conduct exemplary in the encounter, it simply was not. As far as the encounter itself, he was every bit as responsible for the escalation, and quite arguably more so, as the officer, James Crowley. By the same token, Crowley is the trained professional, who teaches other officers how to handle and diffuse situations exactly like this one, and he did not acquit himself well at all either. But that is as to the facts and interpersonal dynamics; from a legal standpoint, Gates’ conduct was clearly and unquestionably completely legal. Irrespective of his conduct, Gates’ arrest was patently false and illegal; you would think some of the media’s vaunted "experts" might could point that out.

The Crowley-Gates incident, however, provides a great teaching moment from both points of view, because each side made their point with classically poor conduct; we can all learn much from both. It is a perfect, and for once not tragic, vignette from which to discuss lingering and important issues of race in America. We owe both sides of the incident, Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley, as well as the President and ourselves, the duty to take advantage of the moment and raise the discourse.

The media, and the citizens it serves, need to stop debating the legality of the arrest, because there really is no valid legal dispute there. The arrest itself was illegal. The national conversation should accept that, leave it behind, and move to the ground of what happened in the interpersonal dynamics of the two protagonists, what it meant to each other and what it means to Read more