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Archive for August 2nd, 2015

The revolution in the American election process

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Digby blogs on Hullabaloo:

Go read this piece by Rick Perlstein about how the political press is covering the presidential contest completely bass-ackwards. They don’t seem to recognize that something very, very revolutionary is happening with Big Money just blatantly taking over the process. If anything they’ve become quietly complicit:

To see how consequential the handing over of this kind of power to nonentities like these is, consider the candidates’ liabilities with another constituency once considered relevant in presidential campaigns: voters. Chris Christie’s home state approval rating, alongside his opening of a nearly billion-dollar hole in New Jersey’s budget, is 35 percent. While Christie has only flirted with federal law enforcement, Rick Perry has been indicted. Scott Walker’s approval rating among the people who know him best (besides David Koch) is 41 percent, and only 40 percent of Wisconsinites believe the state is heading in the right direction. Bobby Jindal’s latest approval rating in the Pelican State is 27 percent. Senator Lindsey Graham announced his presidency by all but promising he’d take the country to war; Jeb Bush by telling Americans they need to work more. Rick Santorum not so long ago made political history: he lost his Senate seat by 19 points, an unprecedented feat for a two-term incumbent.

That political facts this blunt are no longer disqualifying for presidential candidates is a sort of revolution. If the winnowing of front-runners from also-rans has traditionally been a financial process (when the money dries up, so do the campaigns) Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas and Macau began tearing up that paradigm in 2012 by shoveling money to Newt Gingrich; $20 million total, including $5 million dispensed on March 23, three days after Gingrich won 8 percent in Illinois’s primary to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent, keeping Gingrich officially in the race more than a week after the RNC declared Romney the presumptive nominee.

Now, four previously unheard of super-PACS supporting Ted Cruz, who has no support among the GOP’s “establishment,” raised $31 million “with virtually no warning over the course of several days beginning Monday.” The New York Times reported this shortly after reporting that “[t]he leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reigning in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.”

The Koch Brothers, you can learn if you take a deep enough dive into the relatively obscure precincts of campaign coverage, are battling to take over a major functions of the Republicans National Committee.

And all this, admittedly, gets reported, in bits and pieces. But all this noise doesn’t amount to an ongoing story by which citizens can understand what is actually going on. Not just concerning who might be our next president, but what it all means for the republic. And not just concerning the candidates, but the behind-the-scenes string-pullers whose names, really, should be almost as familiar to us as Mr. Bush, Mr. Rubio, and, God forbid, Dr. Carson.

Instead, we get the same old hackneyed horse race—like, did you know that Rick Santorum is in trouble? Only one voter showed up at his June 8 event in Hamlin, Iowa. The Des Moines Register reported that. Politico made sure that tout Washington knew it. Though neither mentioned that Santorum is still doing just fine with the one voter the matters: Foster Friess, the Wyoming financier who gave his super-PAC $6.7 million in 2012, and promises something similar this year. “He has the best chance of winning,” Friess said. “I can’t imagine why anybody would not vote for him.’’ Which, considering only 2 percent of New Hampshirites and Iowans agree with him, is kind of crazy. And you’d think having people like that picking the people who govern us would all be rather newsworthy.

I’ve been writing about this too for a long time. The fact that the press is just now reckoning with the fact that the right wing is extreme tells us how long it takes for them to see political reality. By they time they figure this out, it could very well be too late. After all, it was their embrace of the right over many years that brought us Citizens’ United in the first place.

Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2015 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Business, Election

Following police orders does NOT mean you won’t be shot

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Matt Apuzzo reports in the NY Times about a professional expert witness who, in every case, finds that the police were fully justified in shooting someone. No exceptions. Needless to say, he’s a very popular witness, given the number of times police shoot people.

The report opens with an example of a fully justified shooting from the report, and in fact the officer did suffer no penalties at all:

The shooting looked bad. But that is when the professor is at his best. A black motorist, pulled to the side of the road for a turn-signal violation, had stuffed his hand into his pocket. The white officer yelled for him to take it out. When the driver started to comply, the officer shot him dead.

The driver was unarmed. . .

So: the officer issues an order, the man starts to obey and is killed for that.

This reminds me of the South Carolina shooting when the police officer ordered the man to get his driver’s license, and when the man did, shot him for it.

The Times report concludes with this:

On a cold night in early 2003, for instance, Robert Murtha, an officer in Hartford, Conn., shot three times at the driver of a car. He said the vehicle had sped directly at him, knocking him to the ground as he fired. Video from a nearby police cruiser told another story. The officer had not been struck. He had fired through the driver’s-side window as the car passed him.

Officer Murtha’s story was so obviously incorrect that he was arrested on charges of assault and fabricating evidence. If officers can get away with shooting people and lying about it, the prosecutor declared, “the system is doomed.”

“There was no way around it — Murtha was dead wrong,” his lawyer, Hugh F. Keefe, recalled recently. But the officer was “bright, articulate and truthful,” Mr. Keefe said. Jurors needed an explanation for how the officer could be so wrong and still be innocent.

Dr. Lewinski testified at trial. The jury deliberated less than one full day. The officer was acquitted of all charges.

Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2015 at 11:19 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

High-speed police chases have killed thousands of innocent bystanders

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Thomas Frank writes in USA Today:

More than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979, and tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions, often for minor infractions, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The bystanders and the passengers in chased cars account for nearly half of all people killed in police pursuits from 1979 through 2013, USA TODAY found. Most bystanders were killed in their own cars by a fleeing driver.

Police across the USA chase tens of thousands of people each year — usually for traffic violations or misdemeanors — often causing drivers to speed away recklessly. Recent cases show the danger of the longstanding police practice of chasing minor offenders.

A 25-year-old New Jersey man was killed July 18 by a driver police chased for running a red light.

A 63-year-old Indianapolis grandmother was killed June 7 by a driver police chased four miles for shoplifting.

A 60-year-old federal worker was killed March 19 near Washington, D.C., by a driver police chased because his headlights were off.

“The police shouldn’t have been chasing him. That was a big crowded street,” said Evelyn Viverette, 83, mother of federal worker Charlie Viverette. “He wouldn’t have hit my son if the police hadn’t been chasing him.”

Nearly every day, someone is killed during a high-speed chase between police and a suspect.

Some police say drivers who flee are suspicious, and chasing them maintains law and order. “When crooks think they can do whatever they choose, that will just fester and foster more crimes,” said Milwaukee Police Detective Michael Crivello, who is president of the city’s police union.

Many in law enforcement, including the Justice Department, have recognized the danger of high-speed chases and urge officers to avoid or abort pursuits that endanger pedestrians, nearby motorists or themselves. At least 139 police have been killed in chases, federal records show.

“A pursuit is probably the most unique and dangerous job law enforcement can do,” said Tulsa Police Maj. Travis Yates, who runs a national pursuit-training academy.

The Justice Department called pursuits “the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities” in 1990 and urged police departments to adopt policies listing exactly when officers can and cannot pursue someone. “Far more police vehicle chases occur each year than police shootings,” the department said.

Police chases have killed nearly as many people as justifiable police shootings, according to government figures, which are widely thought to under count fatal shootings. Yet chases have escaped the national attention paid to other potentially lethal police tactics. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2015 at 11:09 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Why The Obama Administration Wants To Pay For Prisoners To Go To School

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Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress:

“My professor, Miss Jamie Mullaney, she cried the last day of class. And it made me cry,” Terrell Johnson said, sitting across from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on Friday morning.

“I’m in a place where it’s not good to cry,” said Johnson, who’s in the middle of a prison sentence for selling drugs. “But I didn’t care. I felt like this lady genuinely cares if I get this education. That made me wanna try even harder, because I don’t want to let her down.”

Mullaney, the head of Goucher College’s sociology department, wasn’t there to hear Johnson recount how his coursework in the Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) has changed him. But Duncan, Lynch, a half-dozen members of Congress, and multiple Obama administration representatives were. The unusual assemblage of guards, inmates, and upper-crust officialdom had gathered to mark the announcement of a White House pilot program to restore federal resources for higher education in select prisons.

“I’m starting to become a better person,” said Alphonso Coates, another of the three inmates that prison officials had permitted to speak with reporters who had been invited to the event. “I believe in myself. The Goucher College program, they let me know that they believe in me also.”

When Duncan asked what the government could do better for people like him, Coates had a concise answer: “Try to invest in the people that’s investing in themselves.”

The Goucher program these men participate in is funded entirely through money the school has raised itself. No state or federal education dollars provide GPEP books, teachers, tutors, and work materials. The program’s costs — about $5,000 per student per year, a sliver of what it costs to incarcerate an adult for 12 months at Jessup — have come entirely from private sources who believe in what professors like Mullaney and renowned historian Jean Harvey Baker and their 70 uniformed, caged students are doing here and at a neighboring women’s facility.

But under the pilot program Lynch and Duncan unveiled Friday, partnerships like GPEP will be able to apply for Pell Grant funding. “The cost-benefit of this doesn’t take a math genius to figure out,” Duncan said. “We lock folks up here, $35,000, $40,000 every single year. A Pell Grant is less than $6,000 each year.”

It’s been 20 years since federal Pell Grants were revoked from prisons during the tough-on-crime heyday of the 1990s, amid a bipartisan political fervor that helped transform U.S. prisons from a corrections system to a punishment business. Two decades later, mass incarceration is a runaway train, and America imprisons so many more people than any other country that it’s hard to even compare the thing in one chart.

Holding so many people behind bars means that American society has to grapple with a commensurately huge volume of released inmates — human beings who have ostensibly repaid their societal debt, but often leave prison with even worse economic prospects for supporting their families legally than they had before they went in. There are 700,000 people released from state and federal penitentiaries each year, Lynch said.

“We talk about that number a lot, and it’s easy to talk about numbers,” the first black woman to occupy America’s top law enforcement job said. “But behind every one of those numbers is a person, and connected to every one of those people is a family.”

The 1994 decision to take Pell Grants away from prisoners has made programs like GPEP a rarity. Inmates who aspire to learn during their time are subject to sometimes cruel whims of a system that manages to simultaneously be very expensive for taxpayers overall but underfunded for actual rehabilitation services.

Vivian Nixon knows the vicissitudes of prison education better than most. She now leads College and Community Fellowship, an advocacy organization for incarcerated education. But years ago, she could have been sitting where Coates did Friday.

“I flunked out of college, and that was a real point of pain and shame to myself and my parents. It just sent me down the wrong road, and I did eventually end up in prison,” Nixon told the group. When she was placed in a prison with a higher-ed program for inmates, she was “overjoyed.”

Three days later she was relocated, this time to a prison with no ability to help her finish her abandoned degree. “I spent 3 years at Albion without access to education, with no access to do the thing that I knew really would heal me, because my core wound was flunking out of college,” she said.

The Higher Education Act gives the Department of Education the power to conduct education experiments like this without seeking specific authorization or money from Congress. Restoring Pell Grants throughout the American prison system will require lawmakers to act. The system unveiled Friday is just one initial step toward making stories like Nixon’s a relic, and journeys like Kenard Johnson’s the standard.

Johnson, who will turn 50 this fall, first took a remedial math course through GPEP. Now, he’s juggling “Black History from 1667 to Reconstruction,” a short-fiction writing class, and either Algebra II or Pre-Calculus depending how the schedule shakes out. (“We never change Goucher’s standards,” GPEP head Amy Roza explained, “out of respect for Goucher but also out of respect for the potential of our students.” Everyone who has enrolled in one of GPEP’s college prep courses has gone on to join the full degree program.)

Johnson wanted to be one of the public faces of Friday’s announcement because “it gives us an opportunity to show them who we are, how hard we’re working, the obstacles we face trying to get an education in a prison setting,” he said. “If society as a whole get to see us for who we are, then it would open up the doors for more prisoners to take college courses.”

Popular attitudes toward the imprisoned and the newly released may be a sort of last frontier for advocates of carceral education as a driver of true personal change. . .

Continue reading.

If we want people to emerge from prison having changed in positive ways, we obviously should support initiatives like this.

Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2015 at 9:15 am

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