Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 7th, 2015

The Milwaukee Experiment about the mass incarceration of African-Americans

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Jeffrey Toobin has an interesting article in the New Yorker:

Like many people in the criminal-justice system, John Chisholm, the District Attorney in Milwaukee County, has been concerned for a long time about the racial imbalance in American prisons. The issue is especially salient in Wisconsin, where African-Americans constitute only six per cent of the population but thirty-seven per cent of those in state prison. According to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as of 2010 thirteen per cent of the state’s African-American men of working age were behind bars—nearly double the national average, of 6.7 per cent. The figures were especially stark for Milwaukee County, where more than half of African-American men in their thirties had served time in state prison. How, Chisholm wondered, did the work of his own office contribute to these numbers? Could a D.A. do anything to change them?

The recent spate of deaths of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers has brought renewed attention to racial inequality in criminal justice, but in the U.S. legal system prosecutors may wield even more power than cops. Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case or drop charges against a defendant; charge a misdemeanor or a felony; demand a prison sentence or accept probation. Most cases are resolved through plea bargains, where prosecutors, not judges, negotiate whether and for how long a defendant goes to prison. And prosecutors make these judgments almost entirely outside public scrutiny.

Chisholm decided to let independent researchers examine how he used his prosecutorial discretion. In 2007, when he took office, the Vera Institute of Justice, a research and policy group based in New York City, had just begun studying the racial implications of the work of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. Over several years, Chisholm allowed the researchers to question his staff members and look at their files. The conclusions were disturbing. According to the Vera study, prosecutors in Milwaukee declined to prosecute forty-one per cent of whites arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, compared with twenty-seven per cent of blacks; in cases involving prostitution, black female defendants were likelier to be charged than white defendants; in cases that involved resisting or obstructing an officer, most of the defendants charged were black (seventy-seven per cent), male (seventy-nine per cent), and already in custody (eighty per cent of blacks versus sixty-six per cent of whites).

Chisholm decided that his office would undertake initiatives to try to send fewer people to prison while maintaining public safety. “For a long time, prosecutors have defined themselves through conviction rates and winning the big cases with the big sentences,” Nicholas Turner, the president of the Vera Institute, told me. “But the evidence is certainly tipping that the attainment of safety and justice requires more than just putting people in prison for a long time. Prosecutors have to redefine their proper role in a new era. Chisholm stuck his neck out there and started saying that prosecutors should also be judged by their success in reducing mass incarceration and achieving racial equality.” Chisholm’s efforts have drawn attention around the country. “John is a national leader in law enforcement, because he is genuinely interested in trying to achieve the right results, not only in individual cases but in larger policy issues as well,” Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, told me.

Chisholm reflects a growing national sentiment that the criminal-justice system has failed African-Americans. The events in Baltimore last week drew, at least in part, on a sense there that black people have paid an undue price for the crackdown on crime. Since 1980, Maryland’s prison population has tripled, to about twenty-one thousand, and, as in Wisconsin, there is a distressing racial disparity among inmates. The population of Maryland is about thirty per cent black; the prisons and local jails are more than seventy per cent black.

In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced an initiative, known as Smart on Crime, that directed federal prosecutors to take steps toward reducing the number of people sentenced to federal prisons and the lengths of the sentences. “Prison is very costly—to individuals, to the government, and to communities,” Jonathan Wroblewski, a Justice Department official who was part of the Smart on Crime team, told me. “We want to explore alternatives.” By 2014, federal prosecutors were seeking mandatory minimum sentences in only half of their drug-trafficking cases, down from two-thirds the previous year. The number of these prosecutions inched downward as well.

Last week, President Obama spoke to reporters about the criminal-justice system at the state and federal levels, saying, “If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do— the rest of us—to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal-justice system, so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs. That’s hard.”

The next day, . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Even findings in the Vera report that seemed encouraging turned out to have a troubling subtext. In addition to the city, Milwaukee County includes more than a dozen suburbs, most of which are predominantly white. “When I first saw the data, I thought, Here is some good news,” Chisholm told me. “It said that we charge white offenders for property crimes at a higher rate than we do black offenders for those kinds of cases. So I thought, Good, here is a disparity the other way. That must balance things out. But a deputy of mine pointed out that what the data really meant was that we devalue property crimes in the center city. We don’t charge a car theft, because we think it’s just some junker car that’s broken down anyway. It meant that we were devaluing our African-American victims of property crimes—so that was another thing to address.”

Chisholm decided to move to what he calls an evidence-driven public-health model.

“What’s the most effective way to keep a community healthy?” he asked. “You protect people in the first place. But then what do you do with the people who are arrested?” There are two basic models of prosecutorial philosophy. “In one, you are a case processor,” he said. “You take what is brought to you by law-enforcement agencies, and you move those cases fairly and efficiently through the system. But if you want to make a difference you have to do more than process cases.”

So Chisholm began stationing prosecutors in neighborhoods around Milwaukee. “If people view prosecutors as just the guys in the courthouse, who are concerned only with getting convictions, then you are creating a barrier,” he said. He and his team started asking themselves in every instance why they were bringing that case. “In those that were seen as minor, it was the least experienced people who were deciding whether to bring them. And these people saw that we had generally brought those cases in the past, so they went ahead with them again. But we started to ask, ‘Why are we charging these people with crimes at all?’ . . .

And later still:

. . . “Mass incarceration is ahistorical, criminogenic, inefficient, and racist,” Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, told me. “Throughout much of American history, we incarcerated about one hundred people per one hundred thousand people in the population. After the eighties, it moved to six hundred or seven hundred per hundred thousand. Prisons are finishing schools for criminals, so they breed more crime. They cost a fortune to maintain. And the racism of the process just starts with drug crimes. Black people don’t use drugs more than anyone else, but, with thirteen per cent of the population, black people make up close to forty per cent of inmates serving time for drug offenses.” . . .

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 2:19 pm

Water Pricing in Two Thirsty Cities: In One, Guzzlers Pay More, and Use Less

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Sensible pricing on water usage—paying higher per-gallon rates as your usage increases—leads to greater water conservation. The surprise is that this would surprise anyone. Nelson Schwartz has a report in the NY Times:

FRESNO, Calif. — When residents of this parched California city opened their water bills for April, they got what Mayor Ashley Swearengin called “a shock to the system.”

The city had imposed a long-delayed, modest rate increase — less than the cost of one medium latte from Starbucks for the typical household, and still leaving the price of water in Fresno among the lowest across the entire Western United States. But it was more than enough to risk what the mayor bluntly admits could be political suicide.

“It wasn’t that long ago,” Ms. Swearengin said, “that people here were fighting the installation of water meters.”

Nearly 15 years ago and 1,000 miles away in Santa Fe, N.M., officials faced a similarly dire predicament when a drought came within a few thousand gallons of leaving the city without enough water to fight fires. But Santa Fe’s response was far more audacious.

Santa Fe, in addition to raising the basic cost of water, decided to make the heaviest users of water pay more — much more — for the water they consumed.

Known as tiered pricing, the system wasn’t new or unique to Santa Fe, but in no major city today are the tiers so steep, with water guzzlers paying three to four times more per gallon than more efficient consumers are charged.

“It was a big wake-up call,” said Rick Carpenter, manager of water resources and conservation for Santa Fe. “There was some opposition, and it could easily have gone the other way. But the majority saw we needed to band together on this one.”

In moving away from the idea that water should be cheap for everybody just because it is so essential to life, Santa Fe’s approach to water pricing offers lessons in how other parched cities can balance the societal costs of scarcer, more expensive water in a relatively equitable way.

Because of the huge gap between tiers, the biggest consumers effectively subsidize everyone else, shielding poorer residents from feeling the full brunt of rate increases.

“So much turns on pricing when it comes to water,” said Robert Glennon, a professor at the Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona and the author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It,” a 2009 book on water policy. . .

Continue reading.

The idea that water is essential for life is news to Detroit, which has moved to cut off water service to the poorest residents. I think that the tiered price for the lowest tier—the minimum amount of water to sustain life—should be free, and the the tiers beyond that get progressively more expensive.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 2:09 pm

Elizabeth Warren Steps Into the F.I.R.E. of Wall Street Corruption

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I am very glad that Elizabeth Warren is in the Senate. I think she can get more done there than as president, to be honest. In Wall Street on Parade Pam Martens and Russ Martens look at her latest initiative:

Increasingly it feels to Americans that the bulk of the news about scams to separate them from their life savings is coming from one Senator from Massachusetts — Elizabeth Warren.

Ripoffs in financial services, insurance, and real estate – known as F.I.R.E. on Wall Street – are being exposed by Warren, typically in bold pronouncements in Senate Banking hearings where Warren has a chair and a respected voice, and are rapidly amplified in the media.

In 2013, it was only because of Senator Warren that we learned that the so-called Independent Foreclosure Reviews to settle the claims of 4 million homeowners who had been illegally foreclosed on by the bailed out Wall Street banks were a sham. The “independent” consultants were hired by the banks, paid by the banks, and the banks themselves were allowed to determine the number of victims.

It was Senator Warren who put the high frequency trading scam described in the Michael Lewis book, “Flash Boys,” into layman’s language the American people could understand. Speaking at a Senate hearing on June 18 of last year, Warren said:

“High frequency trading reminds me a little of the scam in Office Space. You know, you take just a little bit of money from every trade in the hope that no one will complain. But taking a little bit of money from zillions of trades adds up to billions of dollars in profits for these high frequency traders and billions of dollars in losses for our retirement funds and our mutual funds and everybody else in the market place. It also means a tilt in the playing field for those who don’t have the information or have the access to the speed or big enough to play in this game.”

In 2013, Warren, together with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell and Angus King, introduced the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.” Warren explained why the legislation is critically needed:

“By separating traditional depository banks from riskier financial institutions,” said Warren, “the 1933 version of Glass-Steagall laid the groundwork for half a century of financial stability. During that time, we built a robust and thriving middle class. But throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Congress and regulators chipped away at Glass-Steagall’s protections, encouraging growth of the megabanks and a sharp increase in systemic risk. They finally finished the task in 1999 with the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which eliminated Glass-Steagall’s protections altogether.”

Nine years later, the financial system crashed, leaving the economy in the worst condition since the Great Depression.

Last December, Warren made headlines again, stepping onto the Senate floor to reveal to the American people how Citigroup, the bank that received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the country after it imploded from its own derivatives bets in 2008 – had just slipped language into the spending bill to overturn part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill meant to rein in that behavior going forward. Despite her pleas, the bill passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama.

Today, Warren is under fire by the “I” in F.I.R.E. – the insurance industry. On April 28, she sent letters to 15 insurance companies, including AIG, the international insurance company that blew itself up in 2008 by taking on the risks of Wall Street’s credit default swap bets and was bailed out with $182 billion from taxpayers.

The letters asked the insurance companies to provide Warren with the specifics on the incentives they offer to push the sale of annuities, the number and value of the incentives awarded, and the companies’ policies for disclosing these potential conflicts of interest. The letters were sent to the 15 companies with the highest 2014 annuity sales to individuals: Jackson National Life, AIG Companies, Lincoln Financial Group, Allianz Life, TIAA-CREF, New York Life, Prudential Annuities, Transamerica, AXA USA, MetLife, Nationwide, Pacific Life, Forethought Annuity, RiverSource Life Insurance, and Security Benefit Life.

Warren has documented a range of perks that are being given to insurance agents: cruises, Ritz Carlton vacations, diamond-encrusted NFL-style Super Bowl rings, large sums of cash and stock options.

One example cited by Warren was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 1:43 pm

Police Torture in Chicago

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An archive of articles by John Conroy on the the Chicago Police Department had a regime of torture:

The Persistence of Andrew Wilson
A cop killer who fought to expose torture in the Chicago Police Department has died, but his testimony from beyond the grave could still help bring down its perpetrators.
November 29, 2007

Is This a Gag?
The city’s lawyers claim a gag order prevents them from discussing the strange deal they made to settle police torture lawsuits. There’s no order.
September 28, 2007

The Meter’s Still Running and the Mayor’s Still Mum
Since 2003 the city has paid some $7 million in legal fees to fight five police torture lawsuits it probably can’t win. The latest turn in this saga involves a secret settlement agreement designed to protect Daley.
July 6, 2007

Twenty Questions
Lawyers for police torture victims are trying to get Mayor Daley on the stand. We’ve got a few things to ask him too.
May 11, 2007

Confessions of a Torturer
An Army Interrogator’s Story
March 1, 2009 . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Meet the outsider who accidentally solved chronic homelessness

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Terrence McCoy reports in the Washington Post:

The process of innovation is often one of mystery. Where does an idea come from? How do innovators find it? What makes them different from everyone else fumbling around in the dark?

Compounding the puzzle is the irony that those most likely to innovate are rarely the experts. They’re outsiders who see things freshly.

And so, on a recent morning, one such outsider picks his way down a sun-splashed Brookland street. Face patched in scruff, wiry frame crammed into a Patagonia jacket, he doesn’t at first seem like an innovator who has had national impact. But few thinkers today are in greater demand.

Meet Sam Tsemberis. According to academics and advocates, he’s all but solved chronic homelessness. His research, which commands the support of most scholars, has inspired policies across the nation, as well as in the District. The results have been staggering. Late last month, Utah, the latest laboratory for Tsemberis’s’s models, reported it has nearly eradicated chronic homelessness. Phoenix, an earlier test case, eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans. Then New Orleans housed every homeless veteran.

Homelessness has long seemed one of the most intractable of social problems. For decades, the number of homeless from New York City to San Francisco surged — and so did the costs. At one point around the turn of the millennium, New York was spending an annual $40,500 on every homeless person with mental issues. Then came Tsemberis, who around that same time unfurled a model so simple children could grasp it, so cost-effective fiscal hawks loved it, so socially progressive liberals praised it.

And now, here he is again, peering up at another brick building on another urban street in another city that’s dabbling with his models. “This building,” he declares of the Irving Street structure, “is great.”

He pauses for a moment, eyes flashing.

“See that sign over there? It says, ‘Now Leasing.’ That’s what we look for.”

It’s that simple, he said. Give homes for the homeless, and you will solve chronic homelessness. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

The government’s deceptive “transparency” lies

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Marcy Wheeler writes in Salon.com:

Roughly 1,786 days ago, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General started an investigation into the FBI’s use of Section 215, the provision the government uses to collect the phone records of most Americans. Sometime last June, perhaps 330 days ago, the Inspector General finished the report. Three days before USA Freedom Act failed a cloture vote in the Senate last November, Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed where the report, which had been four years in the making, had gone to.

It was stuck in declassification review.

All this delay for a report we know directly addresses issues affected by the USA Freedom Act. We know the earlier IG investigation — and therefore this one — covered the phone dragnet, because a version of the predecessor report, newly declassified in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times, included a 5-page appendix on it. We know the new report included a review of how the FBI retained and disseminated reports collected under the provision, because its predecessor found FBI failed to comply with the law on that front and any follow-up would report on whether FBI had finally started to comply with amendments to the law Congress passed in 2006.

And yet, the Intelligence Community seemed to have no interest in declassifying the report in time to affect the debate.

The delay is all the more inexcusable given one point of USAF and the assumption the Executive Branch had negotiated it in good faith. Part of USAF mandated new Inspector General reports and additional transparency. The biggest improvement on the status quo in the bill, aside from getting the government out of the business of collecting every Americans’ phone records, was those transparency provisions. And yet the Intelligence Community had succeeded in keeping a long-awaited report on that precise program from most of the Members of Congress by not declassifying it in the 5 months between the time it was completed and the time the Senate voted on it.

In February, around 8 months after the report was finished, the DOJ’s IG issued a classified (but still partially redacted) report so Members on the oversight committees, at least, could read the IG’s report on the provision they were actively debating. (And had been debating, for a year!) There’s even some hint – in the form of a new requirement that the government tell the oversight committees, in secret, when the government uses Section 215 to conduct bulky programs – that the bill has changed to reflect new information, perhaps information from the report.

But, as the IG said in February, “the OIG has not been informed of when that review will be completed.”

So here we are, bearing down on a hard deadline in a few weeks to reauthorize Section 215, and the FBI still claims to be conducting a declassification review for a report first initiated 5 years ago and completed 11 months ago. This report would be entering kindergarten if it were human, and yet the FBI wants to keep it in a drawer, away from those who need to read it.

Congress was not formally notified the report was available; at least one member of Congress who asked to see it got no response. The public certainly hasn’t seen it.

Nevertheless, we’re proceeding with this legislation, pretending that the transparency provisions in the bill will be treated in good faith, when by all appearances the IC is preventing the public (and, it appears, at least some members of Congress) from benefitting from past transparency efforts.

In addition to new IG Reports and secret new reporting to Congress, this version of USA Freedom Act requires the government to declassify, or at least summarize, any significant decisions from the FISA Court. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 1:19 pm

Martin O’Malley looks intriguing as a presidential candidate

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I’m somewhat taken with O’Malley. Check out this post and video interview by James Fallows. Certainly O’Malley is more attractive a candidate than Hillary Clinton because of (a) executive experience in government (city councilman in Baltimore, Mayor of Baltimore, Governor of Maryland (2 terms) and (b) not so tied to Wall Street and largesse from foreign governments.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Do Small Businesses Deserve Exemptions From the Minimum Wage?

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An interesting article by Josh Harkinson in Mother Jones, with a poignant appeal from a small-bussiness owner. The libertarian argument would be that businesses that don’t generate enough revenue to pay their employees a living wage are, in effect, are poorly adapted to economic survival, and that the inexorable laws of the market mean that they will fail, just as other businesses that cannot generate sufficient revenue to support their existence. But the owner of the comic store argues otherwise.

As Harkinson notes, “Raising the minimum wage doesn’t tend to decrease overall employment; in general, businesses find new efficiencies and their workers find themselves with more disposable income to spend on things like comics.”

It’s an article worth reading and discussion.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 11:36 am

The NSA’s Bulk Collection of Your Telephone Data Is Illegal, Appeals Court Rules

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Just as we thought, the NSA was ignoring the law. Jason Koebler reports on this in Motherboard:

A US Appeals Court has ruled that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency (NSA) is illegal and that, for the last decade, the NSA has been collecting your data in a way that Congress never intended.

The decision, by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, reverses a decision by a New York District Court last year that ruled the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) did not have adequate standing to challenge the NSA’s bulk metadata collection under section 215 of the Patriot Act. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 11:30 am

The legacy of I.F. Stone: True journalism

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I.F. Stone showed how journalism should be done. Jon Schwarz in The Intercept has a good background story and two videos. Here’s the first video:

Schwarz’s article begins:

I.F. Stone was arguably the greatest investigative journalist of the last 100 years, the “Patron Saint of Bloggers” and one of the main inspirationsof “Unofficial Sources.” If you already know and love Stone, check out parts one (above) and two (below) of a new video, “The Legacy of I.F. Stone.”

If you don’t know Stone but want to find out why he’s so beloved, the videos describe his approach and some of his accomplishments. They also feature Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill explaining whythey love him. Most important is Stone’s bedrock principle: reporters should start from the presumption that powerful institutions are lying, rather than the presumption that they’re telling the truth.

Moore — who before he started making movies ran “Moore’s Weekly,” an homage to Stone’s one-man magazine “I.F. Stone’s Weekly” — says this: . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 11:28 am

Posted in Media

And a story of serious police brutality in Miami Beach

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Radley Balko points out this story in his morning links. The story concludes:

. . . But for nearly two years, Archer would go unpunished for his assault on this Good Samaritan.

Friday, Internal Affairs finally handed down his official “punishment” for his brutality. For actions that would have landed the average citizen in jail, or at the very least fired, Archer will only be suspended for 160 hours.

“Officer Archer was found to have violated several Department and City rule violations, including excessive use of force, mistreatment of a prisoner, conduct unbecoming an employee of the city, and negligence and inefficiency in the performance of his duties,” Ernesto Rodriguez, an MBPD spokesman, tells New Times.

Coincidentally, Archer is one of the 12 cops who fired more than 100 deadly rounds at Raymond Herisse on Memorial Day weekend in 2011 and wounded four bystanders in the process. He was also sued three times in 2012 for allegedly abusing his police powers and making false arrests.

If you live in the Miami area, be careful to avoid this man as he may try to protect and serve you to death.

Other of the morning links:

  • In Fresno and Richmond, Calif., real community-oriented policing is working.
  • In Honolulu, police are now charging prostitutes with sexual assault, instead of prostitution. This is the same police department that recently argued cops should be permitted to have sex with prostitutes before arresting them.

More here.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 11:25 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Excellent essay by a cop on the nature of the job

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Very good essay by Graham Campbell in Buzzfeed:

On my first day of police academy at Queens College in 1999, I, along with 1,400 other young men and women in ill-fitting suits, heard a lieutenant deliver this speech:

Ten percent of you were meant to be police officers. You have it in your blood and bones and you will excel in this profession. For 80% of you, this is a job. It’s a job you will do well and honorably for your career with the NYPD. Ten percent of you should never have made it this far. You are too dumb, too damaged, or too criminal to be police officers and you very well will be hurt, killed, or arrested in the years to come.

I’ve been thinking about that speech a lot lately, watching the news of police brutality and murder in Ferguson, Baltimore, and my hometown, New York City. I know the “bad apple” trope is an insufficient response to the deaths of Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner. But it’s also true. When I became a police officer, I quickly learned that there aremisfits, criminals, and assholes — but they’re the minority of the force. I also learned that your background and education have nothing to do with where you fall in the lieutenant’s measurement. Guys who barely scraped together two years of online college are police officers I could only hope to be, the men and women I would want tracking my murderer. I always thought it ironic when people would say I was “too smart” to be a police officer. Just how dumb do they want the officers guarding their lives to be?

I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I went to private schools, attended Vassar College, and majored in urban studies. I am well-versed in critical race theory and the plague of poverty affecting our nation’s cities. And I still became a cop like any other. I still find myself defending other officers who were second-guessed by friends and family. I’m writing this because, in the aftermath of tragedies like Freddie Gray’s death, the 80% of cops for whom this is “just a job” don’t have a voice.

There are two official voices for cops: their departments and their unions. The department — which is liable for any alleged bad apples — can say only that there’s an ongoing investigation when something goes wrong. And the union will tell you that the alleged bad apple walks on water and shits rainbows. That’s their job. No matter what profession, if you’re in a union, there’s some lawyer now defending some person who has shown up drunk again at work, or who took a dump in their office.

Here’s my best guess as to what that 80% is thinking right now, based on my experience, and conversations and Facebook exchanges with other officers: Police brutality is complicated, no matter what CNN or Rev. Al or the union president will tell you. People think the uniform is some sort of shield, and with the militarization of police, that there is some cold-hearted police machine behind the badge. But they’re usually young men and women in Kevlar and non-breathable fabric. They hate when people shove cameras in their face or scream at them when they’re talking, just like you would if that happened at your office. They are subject to the same stresses and prejudices that all people are, and they face constant threats of violence, some real. Starting in the academy, they’ve watched footage of officers on vehicle stops getting shot or attacked. The recent spate of ambushes in cars and restaurants also are at the front of their mind.

And yes, they know that these murders are rare. And yes, they know that being a cop is less dangerous than being a logger or a construction worker. But the difference is that loggers and construction workers have accidents. That guy that I’m stopping for the brake light who thinks I’m stopping him for the robbery might not want to go back to jail. I can’t control that. That tension can gnaw on you like you wouldn’t believe — and it gets refracted through the community you serve.

When I got to Harlem, where I was assigned, I understood intellectually that the vast majority of the people who lived in my precinct were hardworking people who raised their kids and watched the Mets game at home and went to work and paid taxes. I never saw those people, unless they were burglarized or in a car accident. All of my time was spent on the other 5% of people in my precinct: criminals, the mentally ill, drug addicts, and people who have no common sense. These are the people police handle calls from eight hours a day, five days a week, until we get transferred or promoted.

When acquaintances would find out I was a cop, they would ask what the worst thing I ever saw was. When I was still a rookie, I’d tell them. And they would often turn pale and walk away. Because they wanted to hear about a double shooting and I was talking about a 14-year-old girl who didn’t know she was pregnant and birthed a fetus at four months and was trying to breathe air into its lungs with her asthma nebulizer. I told this story while eating nachos.

I later realized that that girl’s tax dollars paid for me to endure her story, not share it. That’s what a cop’s job is: to swallow the sorrows of humanity — from the banal to the truly tragic — and to return to work the next day and do it all over again. You have to dehumanize people. Your brain does it automatically, to protect yourself. Otherwise, you would need to get drunk all the time or you’d never be able to do the job, period. I believe all good cops still have the spark to do real police work when the time comes. But when the 5% — wrongly — comes to represent the community as a whole, you’re liable to hate whatever group you serve.

There have been many studies on the effects of poverty on communities, and rightfully so — the toll on their safety and health is vast and consequential. Less examined is what happens to officers who work 40 hours a week in abject poverty. I’m not saying it’s the same. We officers have homes to go to in places that look much different. But you can’t tell me that there’s not some effect on us. We’re not robots. And every time I’m working — dealing with the terrible things happening to unfortunate people — and someone yells “Hands up, don’t shoot,” it hardens me a little more. I back into my corner with my brothers and sisters in blue, people who understand me.

One possible solution might be . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 11:19 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Pentagon still mishandling military whistleblower cases

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Marisa Taylor reports for McClatchy:

Military personnel who report retaliation for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing confront a dysfunctional bureaucracy and long delays, according to an assessment by Congress’ watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office found the problems when it analyzed about 124 military whistleblower reprisal cases overseen by the Pentagon inspector general’s office, U.S. officials familiar with the draft of the report told McClatchy. The final report is due out soon.

“The report raises questions about whether uniformed personnel are getting fair treatment and whether the Department of Defense’s inspector general’s office can be trusted to resolve these cases,” said one of the officials. The official asked not to be named because the report has not been published.

In an email, Bridget Ann Serchak, spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s inspector general, said her agency “cannot comment . . . on reports not in the public domain.”

The GAO also declined to comment until the report is released.

The findings are expected to spark a new round of criticism from Democrats and Republicans in Congress who’ve been pushing the Pentagon inspector general’s office to improve its handling of whistleblower reprisal investigations.

The report echoes the GAO’s conclusions in 2012 that the Pentagon inspector general’s office “cannot be assured that it is effectively conducting its oversight responsibilities or implementing the whistleblower reprisal program as intended.”

A Pentagon inspector general team found fault during an internal review in 2011 with almost 70 percent of military reprisal cases it reviewed.

“It shouldn’t take this long to fix these things,” said the official with knowledge of the latest report. “The same problems have been popping up for years.”

The Pentagon inspector general is supposed to be keeping tabs on the inspectors general of the military services who investigate these cases, but its oversight is weak and inconsistent, the GAO concludes in the unpublished report. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 10:39 am

Posted in Government, Military

Congress really does not like to be investigated: Insider trading edition

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Congress normally exempts itself from laws that apply to all other organizations, but in the case of insider trading, Congress did pass a law forbidding it—but apparently never meant for the law to take effect. Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

In a little-noticed brief filed last summer, lawyers for the House of Representatives claimed that an SEC investigation of congressional insider trading should be blocked on principle, because lawmakers and their staff are constitutionally protected from such inquiries given the nature of their work.

The legal team led by Kerry W. Kircher, who was appointed House General Counsel by Speaker John Boehner in 2011, claimed that the insider trading probe violated the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branch.

In 2012, members of Congress patted themselves on the back for passing the STOCK Act, a bill meant to curb insider trading for lawmakers and their staff. “We all know that Washington is broken and today members of both parties took a big step forward to fix it,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, upon passage of the law.

But as the Securities and Exchange Commission made news with the first major investigation of political insider trading, Congress moved to block the inquiry.

The SEC investigation focused on how Brian Sutter, then a staffer for the House Ways and Means Committee, allegedly passed along information about an upcoming Medicare decision to a lobbyist, who then shared the tip with other firms. Leading hedge funds used the insider tip to trade on health insurance stocks that were affected by the soon-to-be announced Medicare decision.

Calling the SEC’s inquiry a “remarkable fishing expedition for congressional records,” Kircher and his team claimed that the SEC had no business issuing a subpoena to Sutter. “Communications with lobbyists, of course, are a normal and routine part of Committee information-gathering,” the brief continued, arguing that there “is no room for the SEC to inquire into the Committee’s or Mr. Sutter’s purpose or motives.”

Wall Street investors routinely hire specialized “political intelligence” lobbyists in Washington to get insider knowledge of major government decisions so that they may make trades using the information. But little is known about the mechanics of political intelligence lobbying, which falls outside the scope of traditional lobbying law, and therefore does not show up in mandatory lobbying disclosure reports.

There are occasional hints, though.

Personal finance forms reveal that from July of 2011 through May of 2013, David Berteau served as a consultant to Height Analytics, the political intelligence firm at the center of the SEC’s current probe. At the time of his work for Height Analytics, Berteau simultaneously worked as a vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent think tank in Washington. Berteau is now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness.

Congressional travel forms show that on December 12, 2012, Emily Porter, at the time an employee of Boehner’s office, traveled to New York on a sponsored trip to meet with JNK Securities for a group lunch with business clients. According to the Wall Street Journal, JNK “has emerged as one of the most aggressive” political intelligence firms on Capitol Hill.

This is hardly the first time Congress has moved to undermine its own ethics rules. In 2011, congressional Republicans quickly abandoned their promise to post the text of bills online “for at least three days” before voting on them.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 10:33 am

Posted in Business, Congress, Law

Very cool tool: Chapman Deluxe Industrial Mini-Ratchet Set

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Very nice—makes me wish I had a need. $86 on Amazon.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life

The Holy Black returns—and the iKon H2O

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SOTD 7 May 2015

Very nice shave indeed today. Two Vie-Long horsehair brushes are shown. The one one the left, at the end, is the one I used yesterday, and you’ll note its handle is a little smaller (though still ample and comfortable). The hair in that one has a gray tone, something that seems common to badger-plus-horsehair brushes. The one I used today is a very nice chestnut. In this case, the gray is not due the brush being badger plus horsehair, but simply that the hair was taken from a horse of a different color. Both brushes performed quite well, and they feel good on a skin, with a kind of comfortable, grainy texture, not in the least prickly.

The Holy Black is a small artisanal company that ran into some problems, compounded by lack of communication with customers. However, it’s back on track and the proprietor has his brother on-board as a partner, and it seems to be doing well. THB makes a very nice glycerin-based shaving soap with some intriguing fragrances. This is the Bay Whiskey Lime, and the lather was excellent. I do miss the fleur-de-lis that once graced the top of his soaps (from the mold he used), but the utilitarian flat top doesn’t diminish the quality of the soap or lather. The soap is, as the name suggests, black, and it came in a very nice shipping box with wood shavings as packing material. The aesthetic, as you can see from his website, is American rustic.

The razor I’ve not used lately, but I’ll be using it more often now. It has an extremely comfortable and efficient head. It’s a two-piece razor, with the handle attached to the baseplate by a bearing so that the handle rotates independently. The alignment lugs are on the baseplate (so you load the blade on the baseplate, not the cap) and the cap’s ends extend at right angles to the cap so they cover the end of the baseplate, with the blade completely covered save for the cutting edge.

It carried an Astra Superior Platinum blade and provided a terrific shave: an enjoyable shave with a BBS result.

The Bay Whiskey Lime aftershave lotion is a balm, and very pleasant. It feels moist for a couple of minutes, but then dries and leaves your skin feeling pleasant.

Very good shave all-round.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2015 at 9:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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