Later On

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Archive for March 28th, 2017

Trump in the Middle East: The New Brutality

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Ahmed Rashid writes in the NY Review of Books:

In the opening months of the Donald Trump administration, there has been little sign of a coherent foreign policy taking shape. What is happening, however, is a dramatic militarization of US policy in the Middle East—one that is occurring largely without the consultation of American allies, and with hardly any public scrutiny. In the case of the war in Yemen and the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, these developments could have extraordinary consequences for US security and even the stability of the Middle East itself.

The disastrous January raid on an al-Qaeda target in central Yemen, just days after Trump took office, resulting in the death of a Navy SEAL and two dozen civilians, has been widely discussed. But since then, US actions have, if anything, escalated. In early March, US aircraft and drones carried out over thirty strikes against Islamic militants across central Yemen, almost equaling the total number of air strikes that were carried out in the whole of 2016. Many civilians were also killed. In Iraq and Syria, meanwhile, there have been numerous reports of civilian casualties in US bombing raids. On Friday, it was reported that as many as two hundred civilians were killed in US airstrikes in Mosul.

Meanwhile, four hundred US troops are on their way to Syria to set up an artillery base for the retaking of the ISIS capital Raqqa; another one thousand troops may soon be sent to Kuwait to act as a reserve force. More troops will soon go to Iraq in addition to the five thousand already there. And the Pentagon has demanded more troops for Afghanistan in addition to the 8,400 already there.

The most startling example may be occurring in Yemen, where the US is intervening with almost no public discussion, debate in Congress, or even—as Western diplomats told me—coordination with NATO allies. The violent civil war in Yemen between the government and Houthi rebels who are Shia Muslims is now a regional conflict involving Iran on the side of the Houthis and the Arab Gulf states backing the government. Yemen is facing the “largest humanitarian crisis” in the world, with two thirds of its eighteen million people in need of aid, according to Stephen O’Brien, a senior UN official.

But the new US military deployments are taking place without any sign of US diplomatic initiatives or discussion of the future of peace talks in conflict zones, or a more rounded strategy and narrative to woo Muslims hearts and minds in order to defeat the Islamic State. The only discussion appears to revolve around how to escalate military action—something that is deeply disheartening to allies around the world.

On March 26, The Washington Post reported that the Defense Department is asking the White House to remove restrictions on providing military aid to Gulf allies who are fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Already, unspecified US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are operating not only in Yemen, but also in dozens of other countries in Africa and Central Asia.

The most disturbing discussion to date revolves around the US military being allowed to create free-fire zones in which US forces could target and bomb potential enemies without regard to civilian casualties or damage to economic infrastructure—a stark repudiation of counter-terrorism rules set down by the Obama and Bush administrations. The New York Times has reported that three provinces in Yemen have been declared ”an area of active hostilities”—in other words a free-fire zone—and that parts of Somalia will soon be added the list. Western diplomats in Brussels say areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban are strongest may also be added. Such a policy, encouraging indiscriminate strikes, will undoubtedly produce thousands more Muslim radicals, undermine humanitarian relief and destroy hopes of economic reconstruction.

Instead of pursuing a comprehensive approach that involves diplomacy, economic aid, conflict resolution and alliance building, Trump has reverted to a dangerous dependence on the military while undermining all other US state institutions that deal with the wider world. Apart from bombing, what exactly is the Trump strategy for Yemen? Does the administration support continuing UN efforts to mediate between the Yemeni government and the Houthis? Now that the Defense Department wants to remove the arms embargo in Yemen, what will that mean for the conflict itself? What diplomacy does the administration plan for dealing with the escalating regional rivalry? And who, in fact, is in charge of Yemen policy at the State Department or the National Security Council? None of these questions are being answered or even addressed.

Yet Yemen is still a minor issue compared to what the US plans next in Syria. Here too civilians are dying from US air strikes—thirty-three civilians were killed on March 22, when US led coalition bombers hit a school.) Will Trump support the Russian-dominated, UN-led peace process in Geneva? Is the US interested in forming a stronger Arab-Western alliance against the Islamic State, while also trying to broker a political solution? Is the US prepared to let President Bashar al-Assad stay in place? Who will pay for the flood of refugees still coming out of Syria or its future reconstruction? None of these questions appear even to be being asked by the White House.

Clear answers become even more unlikely when the Trump administration is considering a possible one third cut in the $50 billion budget of the State Department and the Agency for International Development in order to fund a $54 billion increase in the Defense budget. Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management Budget said on March 4 that the cuts would see “fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid.” There has been widespread opposition from Congress, aid groups, and the media to these proposals. . .

Continue reading.

He concludes:

. . . Trump’s growing dependence on a military strategy around the world will reduce US influence with its allies and all major powers. It also makes it less likely that they will join what Trump hopes will be a crusade against the Islamic State. Autocrats around the world will follow the American example and be encouraged to abandon diplomacy and politics and use force to get their way. We will be left with a US that is set on inflaming conflicts rather than ending them, a US that abandons any sense of global responsibility and pays no regard to international agreements. A new global era has begun in which American allies can no longer rely on American leadership. It may be the most dangerous period we have seen in our lifetimes.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 4:09 pm

The House just voted to wipe out the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections

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The Senate has already voted to remove your privacy protections, and now the House follows suit. Goodbye, privacy. It was great while it lasted.

Brian Fung reports in the Washington Post:

House Republicans voted overwhelmingly Tuesday, by a margin of 215-205, to repeal a set of landmark privacy protections for Web users, issuing a sweeping rebuke of Internet policies enacted under the Obama administration. It also marks a sharp, partisan pivot toward letting Internet providers collect and sell their customers’ Web browsing history, location information, health data and other personal details.

The measure, which was approved by a 50-48 margin in the Senate last week, now heads to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it.

Congress’s joint resolution empowers Internet providers to enter the $83 billionmarket for online advertising now dominated by Google and Facebook. It is likely to lend momentum to a broader GOP rollback of Obama-era technology policies, and calls into question the fate of other tech regulations such as net neutrality, which was approved in 2015 over strident Republican objections and bans Internet providers from discriminating against websites. And it is a sign that companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be treated more permissively at a time when conservatives control all three branches of government.

Supporters of Tuesday’s repeal vote argued the privacy regulations, written by the Federal Communications Commission, stifle innovation by forcing Internet providers to abide by unreasonably strict guidelines.

“[Consumer privacy] will be enhanced by removing the uncertainty and confusion these rules will create,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the FCC.

Internet providers can collect enormous amounts of personal information because they can see all of the online activities of users as they browse different sites on the Web, critics of the legislation said. And unlike search engines or streaming video sites, which consumers can easily abandon if they do not agree with their privacy practices, it is far more difficult to choose a different Internet provider. Many Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband companies in their area, according to federal statistics.

Privacy advocates called the House vote “a tremendous setback for America.”

“Today’s vote means that Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Donald Trump, by giving away our data to the country’s leading phone and cable giants, is further undermining American democracy.” . . .

Continue reading.

It’s odd that the GOP favors this. It certainly doesn’t seem conservative to me. But then neither does trashing the environment.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 3:19 pm

Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs

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This is grim, though Trump’s Treasury Secretary can’t see any signs of a problem. Claire Cain Miller reports in the NY Times:

Who is winning the race for jobs between robots and humans? Last year, two leading economists described a future in which humans come out ahead. But now they’ve declared a different winner: the robots.

The industry most affected by automation is manufacturing. For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent, according to a new paper by the economists, Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University. It appears to be the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots.

The paper is all the more significant because the researchers, whose work is highly regarded in their field, had been more sanguine about the effect of technology on jobs. In a paper last year, they said it was likely that increased automation would create new, better jobs, so employment and wages would eventually return to their previous levels. Just as cranes replaced dockworkers but created related jobs for engineers and financiers, the theory goes, new technology has created new jobs for software developers and data analysts.

But that paper was a conceptual exercise. The new one uses real-world data — and suggests a more pessimistic future. The researchers said they were surprised to see very little employment increase in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing. That increase could still happen, they said, but for now there are large numbers of people out of work, with no clear path forward — especially blue-collar men without college degrees.

Continue reading the main story

“The conclusion is that even if overall employment and wages recover, there will be losers in the process, and it’s going to take a very long time for these communities to recover,” Mr. Acemoglu said.

“If you’ve worked in Detroit for 10 years, you don’t have the skills to go into health care,” he said. “The market economy is not going to create the jobs by itself for these workers who are bearing the brunt of the change.”

The paper’s evidence of job displacement from technology contrasts with a comment from the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who said at an Axios event last week that artificial intelligence’s displacement of human jobs was “not even on our radar screen,” and “50 to 100 more years” away. (Not all robots use artificial intelligence, but a panel of experts — polled by the M.I.T. Initiative on the Digital Economy in reaction to Mr. Mnuchin’s comments — expressed the same broad concern of major job displacement.)

The paper also helps explain a mystery that has been puzzling economists: why, if machines are replacing human workers, productivity hasn’t been increasing. In manufacturing, productivity has been increasing more than elsewhere — and now we see evidence of it in the employment data, too.

The study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States. Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007, it concluded, and that number will rise because industrial robots are expected to quadruple.

The paper adds to the evidence that automation, more than other factors like trade and offshoring that President Trump campaigned on, has been the bigger long-term threat to blue-collar jobs. The researchers said the findings — “large and robust negative effects of robots on employment and wages” — remained strong even after controlling for imports, offshoring, software that displaces jobs, worker demographics and the type of industry. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 3:12 pm

A Louisiana Town Plagued by Pollution Shows Why Cuts to the EPA Will Be Measured in Illnesses and Deaths

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Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

When the Environmental Protection Agency informed people in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, last July that the local neoprene plant was emitting a chemical that gave them the highest risk of cancer from air pollution in the country, the information was received not just with horror and sadness but also with a certain sense of validation.

For years, many of the people living on this little square of land between the train tracks and the Mississippi River levee have felt they suffered more than their share of illnesses. Troyla Keller has a rash and asthma that abate every time she leaves the neighborhood and worsen when she returns. Augustine Nicholson Dorris had breast cancer and seizures. And David Sanders has trouble breathing, a tumor on his thyroid, and neurological problems. “It took a lot away from me,” said Sanders, whose speech is slurred, when I visited the area a half-hour west of New Orleans in February. Several people spoke of shuttling their children and grandchildren to the nearby ER for asthma treatments. And many residents also frequent the neighborhood’s two busy dialysis centers. A third is under construction.

“Everybody felt there was too much sickness,” said Robert Taylor, 76, whose wife had breast cancer and is now struggling with multiple sclerosis. Taylor’s daughter Raven suffers from gastroparesis, a relatively rare autoimmune disorder that has left the 48-year-old unable to digest food and bedridden, after an attempt to treat the condition surgically led to a staph infection. But there were plenty of other unusual conditions, too. Trollious Harris, who has spent most of her life a few blocks from the Taylors, suffers from myasthenia gravis, another autoimmune condition, which has caused her muscles to weaken. Kellie Tabb has a rapid heartbeat and recently met two other people in the area who have the same condition.

“Everybody has had someone that has died of cancer,” said Taylor’s daughter Tish as she stood in the doorway of the family’s home on East 26th Street. To an outsider like me, the neighborhood looked festive, with kids playing on neatly mown lawns and Mardi Gras beads adorning many of the doors. But when Tish, who is 53 and has lived on the block since she was 4, looked at the nearby houses, she saw the people who had fallen ill. “Mr. Henry died of cancer, and he had two sons who were diagnosed with it, too. And Miss Sissy, who lives down the block toward the river, she had pancreatic cancer and died this month. Ms. Diane died of cancer, too,” Tish said, ticking off the casualties on her fingers.

“Something is clearly not right with this area,” said Lydia Gerard, whose husband developed kidney cancer at age 64 that recently metastasized and spread to his chest. Gerard herself suffers from sudden bouts of diarrhea and anemia as well as vitiligo and other autoimmune problems. Her lips and eyes often swell inexplicably and she has itchy welts on her arms and legs that get better when she goes to work 30 miles away — and come back with a vengeance when she returns home. While I was interviewing Gerard and her husband in their two-story home, I also broke out in hives.

Besides being a likely human carcinogen, chloroprene, the gas the plant has been releasing into this community for 48 years, is known to weaken immune systems and cause headaches, heart palpitations, anemia, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes. So the EPA’s news, bad as it was, provided a form of relief. After all these years, a government agency was helping to explain the residents’ strange predicament. The people living next to the plant might be sick, but at least they weren’t crazy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 2:46 pm

Did the Justice Department Try to Keep Sally Yates from Testifying?

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Quinta Jurecic writes at Lawfare:

This morning, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department sought to prevent former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.

According to the Post, the department informed Yates that many of the topics on which she was set to testify, including former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, were likely protected by executive privilege. Yates’s lawyer responded with letters to Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel Ramer and White House Counsel Don McGahn asserting that Yates’s testimony was not privileged.

Yates had been scheduled to testify in an open hearing before HPSCI today, along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan. However, on Friday March 24th, the day after Yates’s lawyer mailed his letter to Ramer and the same day that the letter was sent to McGahn, HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes canceled the committee’s scheduled open hearing in which Yates was set to testify. The Post also reports that by the day before Nunes canceled the hearing, both Yates and Brennan had informed government officials that their scheduled testimony on Tuesday would likely contradict statements by the White House.

Nunes originally announced that the open hearing with Yates, Brennan, and Clapper had been canceled to make way for a closed hearing with testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers in response to Nunes’s hazy concerns about possible incidental collection of Trump transition team communications. Yesterday, however, Nunes stated that the closed hearing had been canceled as well.

HPSCI Ranking Member Adam Schiff has suggested that Yates’s response was connected to Nunes’s decision to cancel the hearing. Earlier reports indicated that Nunes publicly declared the hearing’s cancellation without first informing Schiff or the other members of the committee, and Schiff stated publicly in a press conference following Nunes’s announcement of the canceled hearing that Nunes had previously tried to cancel or close the hearing, only to face pushback from Schiff.

The latest Post report is particularly noteworthy given concerns in recent days over Nunes’s possible coordination with the White House regarding his series of public disclosures on incidental collection. Yesterday, CNN reported that Nunes was seen on the White House grounds the night before his twin press conferences on March 22nd. Additionally, in his press conference on Friday, Schiff also suggested that Nunes had canceled the hearing after “strong pushback from the White House” following the first HPSCI open hearing, asking, “What other explanation can there be?”

Schiff, who last night called on Nunes to recuse himself from the committee’s investigation, has released the following statement in response to the Post’s story: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 2:37 pm

Lunchtime links from Radley Balko

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There sure seems to be a lot of news about the sort of thing Radley Balko tracks. From his lunchtime links:

There are more at link.

This country seems to be in a bad way in the way it treats those without power: the poor, minorities, the mentally ill, Native Americans, immigrants (legal or not), and so on.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 2:11 pm

The White House says it’s “not familiar” with the economic impacts of climate change.

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Emily Atkin writes in The New Republic:

The whole reason President Donald Trump is releasing a wide-ranging executive order today to dismantle a bunch of America’s climate change policies is because he says it will be good for the economy. On a call with reporters Monday night to discuss the executive order, one unnamed senior White House official said Trump is “not going to pursue climate or environmental policies that put the U.S. economy at risk.”

But when this official was pressed with the fact that climate change poses grave economic risks of its own, he froze. “I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about,” he said, challenging the reporter to show him the research. Here’s the full exchange:

REPORTER: What about all the scientists who are saying climate change is going to have adverse economic consequences—things like rising sea levels, more hazardous hurricanes—how do you address those economic arguments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, you’ll have to talk to those scientists.  Maybe I can talk to you afterward.  I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about.  But again, the President’s policy is very clear about addressing—making sure we’re addressing the economy, providing people with jobs, and we’re making sure that EPA is sticking to its core mission.

REPORTER: Are you saying you’re not aware that scientists are concerned about rising sea levels or more violent storms might impact the economy—

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would want to see the research.  Sure, that would be good.  Show it to me.

Think about this for a second. The Trump administration is unraveling the best chance we have at slowing human-caused climate change, solely because he says it will improve the economy. But Trump’s advisers have apparently not considered how climate change’s impacts on agricultural productivity, human health, and property value will hurt the economy. Hell, they’re not even “familiar” with the idea that it might.

This isn’t just some environmental talking point: Huge public companies regularly file risk disclosures saying climate change threatens their bottoms lines. Big insurance companies like Allianz, Liberty Mutual, and SwissRe warn the government must prepare for climate-fueled extreme weather events to avoid passing costs on to them. In the 2014 report “Risky Business,” bigwigs like billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson warn of dire economic consequences if warming isn’t tackled. By 2050, it says $106 billion worth of coastal property could sink below sea level, while crop yields could be reduced by up to 70 percent in some states because of extreme heat.

For a presidential administration that is basing its climate policy on the idea that it’s good for the American economy, these seem like ridiculous things to not be “familiar with.”

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 1:58 pm

Golden boy tarnished: Trump keeps giving Jared Kushner more jobs — but is he any good at any of them?

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Heather Digby Parton has a really good column in Salon. It begins (and do click the link in that Tweet—you’ll have to turn the sound on, but it is stunning now):

For a few days last week the scuttlebutt held that President Donald Trump’s most trusted adviser might be on the outs with the boss because he decided to take the family skiing in Aspen, Colorado, just as the White House entered its first big legislative fight, which of course it ignominiously lost. I’m speaking of Jared Kushner, the boyish 36-year-old husband of favorite offspring Ivanka and, by all accounts, the man who is the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.

The pictures of Jared and Ivanka posing for Instagrams like a bunch of Kardashians hawking designer ski gear while the embattled president called up wavering Republican congressmen and prattled on about “his damn election” didn’t exactly show a serious, hardworking image to the nation. And we know how Trump feels about that, right?

As it turns out Trump’s actually a yuuuge believer in taking vacations. He has been to his Florida resort seven times already (at taxpayer expense) and last weekend the White House tried to pretend the president was having meetings at his Virginia golf club. It was later revealed that he was hitting the links again.

So it’s not surprising that Trump was quick to forgive his favorite daughter and son-in-law for their little getaway. Not only did he forgive Jared; yesterday he put him in charge of a bold new initiative to run the country like a business with what the Washington Post described as  a “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives.” If the first couple of months of the Trump administration are any indication of what that might look like, we’re in for a bumpy ride. As Salon’s Simon Maloy observed:

Innovation! What a concept. And who better to head up a team of business innovators and power brokers than Jared Kushner, a child of privilege who inherited his father’s real estate business and fell ass backward into a position of authority? Kushner will take the lessons he learned from being born rich and marrying the right person and use them to disrupt the American government.

And this tired old GOP mantra about running government like a business is like saying that you should build boats like you wash dishes. They are completely different tasks. And Kushner is a particularly poor choice, even if you buy the argument. As Maloy pointed out, Kushner is a lot like his father-in-law in that he inherited his father’s New Jersey real estate business and, well, that’s about it.

Actually, after Chris Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for corruption (it’s a long story), Jared took the reins of the business and jumped into Manhattan real estate where he is known for one very big deal. Unfortunately, also like his father-in-law, it turns out Kushner is not very good at what he does. Kushner sold his stake in that project to his family recently, ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest. It was actually a smart business decision because the building’s finances are in big trouble at the moment. The Kushners may receive a bailout from a powerful Chinese insurance company. So it’s a good thing that we’ve decided that Republicans enriching their immediate family while in office isn’t corruption — or that might look bad.

Kushner’s new job is just an addition to his already bulging portfolio. Recall that a while back he was given the special task of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One might assume he’s even less qualified for that job than he is for heading up a “SWAT team” of business leaders, but apparently being an observant Jew is all that’s required. It’s surprising that nobody ever thought of that before.

On Monday we found out from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that “throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up.” That’s correct: This 36-year-old with no experience in government or foreign affairs served as the new president’s primary contact with foreign governments. Apparently, no one who knew what he (or she) was doing was available.

This important task seems to have landed young Kushner into a spot of trouble, however. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 1:33 pm

Trump doesn’t support cops. He supports cops who agree with him.

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Back in 1970, Congress passed a couple of bills authorizing the “no-knock raid.” This was an issue that President Richard Nixon had pushed during the 1968 presidential campaign. Prior to the late 1960s, police did sometimes enter residences without knocking, but they’d only decide to do so under “exigent circumstances,” such as pursuing a fleeing fugitive or hearing screaming from inside of a house. They would then need to justify their actions to a judge. Nixon wanted cops to be able to get warrants authorizing no-knock raids ahead of time, particularly in drug cases.

This wasn’t something police chiefs or sheriffs were asking for. It wasn’t a tool they thought they needed, at least at the time. Instead, it was the brainchild of Don Santarelli, a young Senate staffer hired by the Nixon campaign to come up with wedge issues to appeal to Nixon’s “silent majority.” Letting cops bust down the doors of suspected drug offenders may have violated a centuries-old principle called the “Castle Doctrine” — the notion that the government should only be able to violate the sanctuary of the home under extraordinary circumstances — but it played well with Nixon’s favorite demographic. (Santarelli has since expressed regret for this policy.) The first bill Congress passed allowed the no-knock for federal agents conducting drug investigations all over the country. The second authorized the no-knock warrant for cops in Washington, D.C. Because Congress has jurisdiction over D.C., Nixon had decided to make the city a guinea pig for his anti-crime policies.

Federal agents embraced the policy, and commenced kicking down doors all over America, often with tragic consequences. But in D.C., it was a different story. Police Chief Jerry Wilson — a man well ahead of his time — thought the policy was dangerous, was reckless and ran roughshod over the civil rights of his constituents. He also feared that it would poison the relationship between police and the city’s residents. So he refused to implement it.

Over Wilson’s tenure, crime dropped in D.C., even as it soared in much of the rest of the country. So the Nixon administration didn’t seem to mind that Wilson hadn’t instituted one of its key policies. It was happy to take credit for the drop in crime. Congress would later repeal both no-knock bills, although the policy would come back in the 1980s and has been with us ever since.

Last week, I thought about Wilson’s stand against an aggressive law-and-order administration when the Trump administration posted the names of police agencies that refused to detain suspected undocumented immigrants long enough for federal officials to take custody of them. This will apparently be a weekly endeavor, an effort to shame local authorities for not sufficiently aiding in deportations. Like the threat to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, President Trump’s aim here is to punish municipalities for not sufficiently contributing to his deportation goals.

It’s also a direct attack on policing and federalism, two institutions Trump and his administration claim to hold in high esteem. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump and his supporters painted him as the candidate who will support cops, who would give police officers the tools they need to do their jobs. Trump would be a stark contrast to the Obama administration, which Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and campaign surrogates reprimanded as too critical of law enforcement and too eager to impose federal authority on local police agencies.

Sessions, for example, called the use of consent decrees between the federal government and police agencies in which the Justice Department has found a pattern of civil rights violations — which increased significantly under the Obama administration — “one of the most dangerous . . . exercises of raw power.” Trump himself has repeatedly argued that the administration’s federal oversight has made police officers afraid to do their jobs, and has blamed President Barack Obama’s Justice Department at least in part for the rise in crime in some American cities.

But the decision among some police agencies to refuse to hunt down or hold undocumented immigrants for federal authorities isn’t a protest for open immigration or a way of undermining Trump. It’s about good policing. First, there’s the problem of complying with the law. As the New York Times argued in a recent editorial, complying with White House demands would likely violate the Constitution:

If a police department is about to release someone who posts bail, it can’t prolong the detention — in essence, arrest that person again — just because ICE asks it to. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the local police cannot be forced to honor a detainer in violation of the Constitution. That is, without an arrest warrant from a judge. Which an ICE detainer is not.

The list appears to have been pretty ad hoc and sloppily assembled. It was clearly designed more to shame agencies that have publicly opposed Trump than to be a comprehensive list of those that haven’t complied. For example, more than 60 percent of the ignored detainers listed for the first week were in Travis County, Tex. That county’s sheriff’s department instituted a new policy last month restricting its cooperation with ICE. But there’s a good reason the sheriff’s department there wants to make its own decisions about when to ask for deportations:

Maj. Wes Priddy, of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency does detain criminals convicted of serious crimes for immigration officials.

But he said his department does not turn over people awaiting trial.

“We do honor ICE detainers. But we do it selectively and in a manner which we can abide by our policy,” Priddy said, adding that in the past, immigration officials have deported people before trial, depriving defendants of their day in court and, in some cases, denying closure to crime victims. “We want to make sure that justice is served on the local level as well.”

In other words, local officials have determined that in some instances, trying serious crimes in court is more important to the local community than deporting an accused undocumented immigrant. That’s precisely the sort of decision a true federalist would let states and municipalities decide on their own. Instead, Trump wants a one-size-fits-all immigration policy — his policy — for every police agency in the United States.

But it’s worse even than that. Trump also made crime a key part of his campaign. He demagogued and exaggerated the rise in violent crime in some cities. Police officials, especially those in large cities with large populations of undocumented immigrants, aren’t opposing Trump’s immigration policies out of spite or distaste for him. They’re opposing them because they fear those policies will lead to more crime, not less. Over and over, in city after city, law enforcement officials have stated that when you create a climate of fear in immigrant communities, it makes undocumented people, their friends and their families less willing to report crimes, and less likely to cooperate with police investigations. This is why groups such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association have expressed concern about Trump’s threats to sanctuary cities, and why police officers in those cities say Trump is making their jobs more difficult. From the L.A. Times: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 11:49 am

“Get Out” and the death of White racial innocence

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In the New Yorker Rich Benjamin reviews a couple of movies:

As “Get Out” climbs above the hundred-million-dollar mark at the box office and starts to open around the world, I keep thinking of my original viewing of the film, in downtown Brooklyn, where I could count all the white people in the large movie theatre on one hand. When Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), the good-looking, amiable black protagonist of the movie, stabs a white woman to death, impales a preppy white man with the antlers of a steer, and watches idly as a white woman is gunned down on the road, the black audience cheered and burst into gales of howling laughter. Jordan Peele’s début film was already on its way to becoming a social phenomenon, one-upping his “Key & Peele” TV antics and speaking uniquely to the country’s sour racial mood. While black and brown youth flock to megaplexes to see “Get Out,” the blue-state bourgeoisie flow to art houses to see Raoul Peck’s documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” which channels the writing of James Baldwin. Predictably, the two films are rarely playing in the same venue. But one cannot help but compare the zany satiric bite of “Get Out” with the resonant intelligence of Baldwin in “I Am Not Your Negro.” Both of these films, in their different ways, mock and cheer the death of white racial innocence.

In “Get Out,” we watch as Chris agrees, with skepticism, to drive from the city with Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), his cheery, can-do white girlfriend, to visit her liberal family at their manicured, utopian estate in the country. As they pack for the weekend, Chris asks his lover, “Do your parents know I’m black?” “Should they?” Rose says, taken aback, eyes beaming bewilderment and hurt. “I Am Not Your Negro” opens, too, with a spirited display of white racial innocence. A young Dick Cavett hosts James Baldwin on his popular talk show, in 1968, and stammers, “Why aren’t the Negroes getting more optimistic?” Cavett’s chaste, bright eyes blink sadly as he struggles to phrase his rather basic question. Baldwin’s response elegantly rips into America for not being able to confront the language of racism, to say nothing of the fact of it. “White people are astounded by Birmingham. Black people aren’t,” Baldwin says. “They are endlessly demanding to be reassured that Birmingham is really on Mars.”

“I’m terrified at the moral apathy—the death of the heart—which is happening in my country,” Baldwin adds later. In his mordant telling, Americans are consumer zombies struck by an “emotional poverty so bottomless and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life. This failure of the private life has always had the most devastating effect on American public conduct and on black-white relations. If [white] Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they would never have become so dependent on what they call the Negro Problem.” Secluded in splendor, the Armitages, too, harbor desolate private struggles that lead them to inflict external racial terror.

Peck’s documentary attempts to depict the thirty-page manuscript that Baldwin never finished: the personal, visionary account of the truncated lives of three of his close friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Decades after the deaths of these leaders, the white show of naïveté they sought to unmask is as grotesque as ever. “But how can this happen?” the white liberal asks, when a barrage of digital footage—Walter and Freddie and Tamir and Alton and Laquan—made his country’s systematic brutality no longer deniable. “But how can this happen?” the white liberal asks, upon learning that Donald Trump carried virtually every demographic of white person, running the campaign that he ran.

White racial innocence meanders across time and political context. White blindness, as Baldwin saw it, crafted the social illusion that blacks have no reasons for being bitter. This era was followed by one in which whites would giddily talk up a color-blind America. They would avoid discussing race out of a sincere ethical desire to wash the stain of racial differentiation from our nation. These types saw (and still see) themselves as Reverend King’s disciples; they prefer color-blind conversations, policies, and Supreme Court Justices. Other color-blind acolytes, however, dismiss racial debate as a distraction from real issues, such as unemployment, “broken borders,” “law and order,” and “voter fraud.” All lives matter. And, most recently, we’ve witnessed the delusion of those whites who fancy themselves and the country as post-racial: there has been a sea change in racial attitudes, thanks to President Obama’s tenure, and we are going to bury racism in a dustbin, and racial identity and distinctions have become passé.

No longer. When even George W. Bush, of the disastrous Katrina response, bemoans the racial tension inflamed by the Trump Presidency, something is afoot. “Yes, I don’t like the racism, and I don’t like the name-calling, and I don’t like people feeling alienated,” Bush said recently. We’ve begun to witness, over the last eighteen months, the shell of white racial innocence crack. Lately, so much polite and impolite racism has been seen and heard, in such a way that you can’t un-ring a bell.

Baldwin could have been speaking today when he said that whites are cruelly trapped between what they might like to be and what they actually are. That moment of understanding, the very instance when whites acknowledge the blunt truths that make their innocence no longer cute, let alone plausible, is what delivers profound horror—or sidesplitting laughs—in a movie as sharp as “Get Out.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 11:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Simpson Emperor 3, Phoenix Artisan Alt-Eleven, and the new RazoRock Baby Smooth

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The Simpson Emperor is a favorite, though I notice I tend to pick one of my synthetics more often. Still this is a great brush, and the lather from Phoenix Artisan’s kokum butter shave soaps is excellent. Alt-Eleven has a great frangrance, and these soaps always make my skin feel good.

The RazoRock Baby Smooth is a truly wonderful razor. This one is destined for one of my grandsons next month (his birthday, and he’s just started shaving), but I certainly will keep my other Baby Smooth, from the first run. So far as feel and performance, this one and the original are alike, though there are some small differences in the handle.

A tiny dot of Alt-Eleven aftershave balm, and the day is launched. This is a quick-drying balm with a pleasant effect.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2017 at 9:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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