Later On

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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

“How True Crime Helped Me Deal With a Real-Life Monster”

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Rae Alexandra writes at KQED:

A few years ago, after 17 years of friendship, a man I adored and thought I knew very well was sentenced to three decades in prison for charges related to pedophilia. His case included acts on children so young, I hadn’t realized prior to his arrest that such crimes even existed.

Due to there being a mountain of video evidence (he had recorded himself), he admitted his guilt on the first day of his trial, and it was over almost before it had begun. Selfishly, I felt relieved that none of us would have to hear the minutiae of everything he’d done, but, reeling and in a state of shock, I decided to read the judge’s sentencing remarks online. I thought they might provide some catharsis. Instead, even the cursory details wound up making me physically sick. The vomiting went on for days until my parents finally summoned me home. I don’t recall any other point in my adult life where I needed to be next to my mother so badly.

In the days and weeks that followed, there were long phone conversations with friends, as everyone tried to process the hows and the whens and the whys. At one point, my sister, in another country and not privy to the same news coverage, called me, convinced that he had been set up and somehow tricked into pleading guilty. “What must they have done to him?” she asked, audibly distressed. It was a testament to how good he had been at pretending to be someone else.

After a while, you have to stop talking about it. The need to move on becomes palpable. You don’t want to keep loudly dissecting the details in case it prevents other people from healing. So about a month in, still unable to reconcile the person I knew with the person in prison, and tired of going around in mental circles, I made the decision to tell myself he was dead. Doing so allowed me to mourn the friend I had lost—the person I thought he was, the inside jokes we shared, the teenage history—and put the whole thing behind me.

Except it’s not really that easy. I was never actually convinced that the root cause of his criminality was a sexual attraction to children. He did not fit the classic profile of a pedophile at all. He was outgoing with other adults, had a lot of friends and a steady stream of age-appropriate girlfriends, and was fiercely protective of his nieces and nephews. Compounding matters was the fact that it was a high-profile case; now and again, new stories about him would emerge. One summer, at a wedding, a stranger made a joke about him, unaware that I had known him. To this day, when people find out where I’m from, some of them ask if I ever met him in a manner that suggests he’s halfway to becoming an urban myth.

The longer I tried to ignore it, the more my need to figure out why he did what he did increased. So I started researching in earnest. Books about psychopathy and psychology and mental illness. Checklists of various personality disorders to see which one made the most sense. I read papers written by criminal psychologists and, at one point, even consulted with one directly because she’d had a lot of experience treating pedophiles. There were breadcrumbs and clues, but a clear answer evaded me.

Then a colleague gave me a gift: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. Not only had Rule been good friends with Ted Bundy, she’d also been working in the police department during the manhunt to find him, so she wrote about it all in agonizing detail. Rule’s predicament was comfortingly familiar, and the way she described Bundy sounded a lot like my friend—charming, handsome, intelligent, vain, never lacking in female attention. The book was far and away the most helpful thing I had read so far. So I kept going.

Next, I chose Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of the Yorkshire Ripper by Gordon Burn, because it focused not only on Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes but the relationships he had maintained with his family and friends too. Those closest to Sutcliffe suspected nothing at all, even as he murdered 13 women, right under their noses.

After that came Killing For Company about Dennis Nilsen, a mild-mannered civil servant who murdered, dissected and disposed of at least 12 men while living in the heart of London. I had a hard time putting Brian Masters’ book down and plowed through it in a matter of days. One of the final chapters offered me a real turning point. In it, Masters breaks down, in great detail, the personality traits of serial killers—and my friend had almost all of them, down to bizarrely specific details. I stayed up all night with a highlighter. Later on, someone quietly confessed that he believed our friend would have “definitely” killed someone if he hadn’t been caught when he was. When I agreed and told him about the details in Killing For Company, he looked relieved that someone else shared this theory.

In recent months, I have had three separate people ask me why the media I consume is so dark in subject matter. It didn’t use to be. Now, every other book I read is about serial killers (my current choice is Fatal Vision, about Dr. Jeffrey McDonald who was imprisoned in 1979 for slaughtering his wife and children). When I watch TV and movies, I am mostly focused on true crime documentaries or dramatizations. (Lifetime’s Monster in My Family is a current favorite, thanks to the series’ process of putting the families of criminals in the same room as those of victims, allowing connections to take place). When I run out of episodes to stream, I find myself listening to the Casefile podcast.

The only time I have any objection to consuming true crime anything these days is when lines of decency get crossed. Allowing extended interviews with killers to air, for example—as The Ted Bundy Tapes and The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All recently did—is, to me, both an affront to victims and a reward to killers. I don’t want . . .

Continue reading.

There are monsters in our midst.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 9:59 am

This seems insane to me: Indiana Teachers Say They Were Mock Executed With a Pellet Gun During a School-Shooter Drill

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Sarah Jones writes in New York:

For educators, school-shooter drills have become a grim ritual. But teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana, say one recent drill went much too far. As reported by the Indianapolis Star, law-enforcement officers lined teachers up and then shot them execution-style with an airsoft rifle. Pellets left bloody welts and caused panic; teachers had not been warned that officers would use a training weapon during the drill. “They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing,’” one anonymous teacher told the Star. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad.”

White County Sheriff Bill Brooks, whose department conducted the training, says that his officers stopped using the rifle after they were “made aware that one teacher was upset.” But multiple teachers complained to the Star, and the state’s largest teachers union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, has asked legislators to amend a pending school-safety bill so that it would prohibit safety-drill instructors from launching projectiles at teachers. During a Wednesday hearing, ISTA members vividly described hearing screams from shot teachers:

Brooks opposes the amendment. “We don’t need legislation in White County,” he told the Star. “We’re just not going to do it.” But Keith Gambill, the vice-president of ISTA and a music teacher based in Evansville, Indiana, told New York on Thursday that the union remains committed to legislative change anyway. “We want employees and students to be in a safe environment even if there has to be a training,” he said. “But the training should not involve shooting a projectile.” Gambill said the union had not received reports of similar incidents at other schools.

But while the Meadowlawn case is unusual, it has a legible genealogy. The sheriff’s intransigence, the drill’s traumatic conclusion, even the simple existence of the drill, all stem from the same basic reality — America refuses to pass any meaningful gun-control legislation. There’s no point, legislators say. Mass shooters are evil, and no law can strip evil from the hearts of men. And so mass shootings become symptoms of something other than legislative malpractice. They become sins, or “a random force of nature,” as the writer Patrick Blanchfield once put it. We can’t prevent mass shootings, this logic insists, so we can only prepare for them. As Blanchfield noted, the proliferation of gun violence has spawned a lucrative cottage industry — bulletproof whiteboards and bulletproof backpacks and training programs that script extreme school-shooting drills.

There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs. Liberals look at New Zealand, which banned military-grade guns within ten days of the Christchurch shootings, and draw up a short list of reasons to explain why they acted, and we do not: American gun culture, the particularities of our legislative system. But our intransigence is not just about our political system or some buried nostalgia for a mythical cowboy past: it is also about money. Guns make certain people very rich — people like gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists, though they aren’t the only beneficiaries of America’s reluctance to restrict its firearms.

The White County Sheriff’s Department shot teachers during an exercise designed by the for-profit ALICE Training Institute. The Ohio-based, for-profit organization did not return emailed requests for comment before press time, but its website is instructive. Though there’s no evidence that it has encouraged law-enforcement officials to assault teachers with pellet guns during trainings, it does promote a proactive response to active shooters. Each letter in its name corresponds to a different step in its safety protocol. “ALERT is when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 3:35 pm

A glimpse of US police culture at work

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Christian Sheckler of the South Bend IN Tribune reports in ProPublica:

A federal grand jury has indicted two Elkhart, Indiana, police officers on civil rights charges for repeatedly punching a handcuffed man last year, U.S. prosecutors announced Friday.

Elkhart County prosecutors had originally charged the two officers, Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, with misdemeanor battery in November, after the South Bend Tribune and ProPublica learned of the incident and requested video.

The video showed Mario Guerrero Ledesma, seated and wearing handcuffs, in a detention area at the city police station in January 2018, while Newland, Titus and other officers stood nearby. At one point, Guerrero Ledesma spat toward Newland. Titus and Newland immediately punched Guerrero Ledesma in the face, causing him to fall backward onto the floor, then jumped on top of him and punched him repeatedly. Guerrero Ledesma had initially been arrested on suspicion of domestic battery.

“Today’s indictments send a clear message that the FBI won’t tolerate the abuse of power or victimization of citizens by anyone in law enforcement,” Grant Mendenhall, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis division, said in a statement. “The alleged actions by these individuals went against everything in the oath they took to serve and protect.”

The federal indictment accuses Newland and Titus of depriving Guerrero Ledesma of his rights by using excessive force, and it alleges he was injured in the beating.

Beyond the federal indictment, the battery charges against Newland and Titus in Elkhart County also are still pending. Both officers have pleaded not guilty. Titus is scheduled for a May trial in Elkhart Superior Court. Newland is set for a round of negotiations with prosecutors in April about a possible plea agreement, according to the docket for his case in Elkhart City Court. . .

Continue reading.

One interesting note later in the article:

The Tribune and ProPublica first requested video of the beating as part of an investigation into disciplinary matters in the Elkhart Police Department. The news organizations also revealed 28 of the department’s 34 highest-ranking officers had disciplinary records, 15 had been suspended and seven had opened fire in at least one fatal shooting.

Later, the Tribune and ProPublica reported on another disciplinary case in which Windbigler, the chief at the time, had provided inaccurate or incomplete information to the civilian oversight commission.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 2:41 pm

Racism Is Good at Hiding. Just Ask This White Nationalist Police Officer.

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Zak Cheney-Rice writes in New York:

The historical ties between American law-enforcement agencies and white supremacist groups are well documented. Southern sheriffs abetted Ku Klux Klansmen under Jim Crow. The FBI posted a bulletin in 2006 warning about white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police entities, citing cases in Ohio, Illinois, Texas, and California, including the formation of a neo-Nazi gang by officials within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The armed forces have been implicated as well. Federal agents in February arrested a 49-year-old Coast Guard lieutenant and self-described white nationalist who had amassed 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition while planning a massacre of innocent civilians “on a scale rarely seen in this country,” according to court documents.

Most of the accused are united as much by their bigoted beliefs as their ability to fortify them in private while maintaining a veneer of public respectability. But as has been true throughout history, the most recent reported case proves these impulses are not at odds. On the contrary, they are intimately connected, and often make one another possible.

The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill reported this week that Daniel Morley, a 31-year-old school resource officer employed by L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield, Virginia, is also an organizer for Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group also known as the American Identity Movement. His involvement was first exposed on Monday by Virginia anti-fascists, according to the report, who leaked the group’s online chat messages. (Morley has since been suspended, pending a departmental investigation). The exchanges they uncovered suggest that Morley holds an esteemed and valuable position within the organization: coordinating new recruits. His particular focus is on helping members hide their bigotry and racist aims from the public by employing misleading language.

According to Weill, this role is an extension of Morley’s activities going back a decade, to his days as a commenter on the white supremacist website Stormfront. “A good strategy would be to steer the definition of ‘racism’ towards ‘racial hatred,’” he reportedly counseled one Identity Evropa member last year. “We don’t hate other races, so we’re not racists. After all, the word isn’t going away. May as well control it.”

In order to be successful, this brand of subterfuge requires a public that is either too ignorant or in willful denial of racism’s machinations to look past the surface. Fortunately for Morley, he lives in the United States, where questions of racism are often litigated in terms of “what’s in a person’s heart,” or what they are willing to admit publicly. Such myopia permitted Representative Steve King of Iowa to espouse white nationalism for more than a decade, with the only rebuke from his fellow Republicans coming in January when he inquired (on the record, in a New York Times profile), “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” It is how U.S. senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker can respond to the question, “Do you believe that Donald Trump is a racist?” with, “I don’t know the heart of anybody. I’ll leave that to the Lord.”

Absent divine insight or X-ray vision, the rest of us will have to do better on our own. To this end, historical evidence is valuable: The impulse to obscure or deny one’s bigoted intentions is not new, nor is it limited to avowed white supremacists. It was being deployed in national politics decades before Donald Trump tried his hand at campaigning, as illuminated when Richard Nixon’s campaign consultant, Lee Atwater, explained the strategy behind his candidate’s efforts to woo southern whites away from the Democratic Party: “By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.”

Indeed, such behavior has become more useful in the post–civil-rights era, as open bigotry has become more taboo in polite company and the explicit racism of Jim Crow–era laws and sumptuary codes ran afoul of federal law, requiring evasive action among its adherents. This is where cries of “reverse racism” enter the discourse, where claims like Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2007 insistence that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” captures the ethos of pols seeking to override civil-rights gains through fealty to a theoretical — but not actual — equality.

Other manifestations have been less mannered. Morley can find perhaps his most famous modern analogue in former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who has spent decades preoccupied with taking his brand of white nationalism mainstream. He has been remarkably successful. Duke, in 1989, was elected to a seat in Louisiana’s House of Representatives, where he served until 1992. These days, he can be found defending other bigots in public using canards and false equivalences. “[In] this country,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2019 at 7:57 am

Americans Are Seeing Threats in the Wrong Places

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Janet Napolitano with Karen Breslau, authors of How Safe Are We?: Homeland Security Since 9/11, write in the Atlantic (and let me mention that it was Janet Napolitano who retracted the DHS report on the dangers of right-wing domestic terrorism—the GOP in Congress pushed her, and she caved):

At 8:07 a.m. on January 13, 2018, every smartphone screen in Hawaii lit up with a single message, in all caps: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” In fact, it was a false alarm triggered by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency worker who mistook instructions he had received during an unscheduled emergency drill for a real attack. Nevertheless, motorists drove erratically as they raced to park their car inside a freeway tunnel. Spectators fled sporting events, and college students ran to campus tsunami shelters. Some people called or texted their loved ones to say goodbye.

It was not until 8:38 a.m. that the State of Hawaii issued a correction on its emergency-alert system. It took nearly half an hour, the governor later confessed, because he could not remember the login for his official Twitter account. The White House issued no communication until later in the day, when a deputy press secretary said in a statement that the president had been briefed on the incident and that “this was purely a state exercise.”

From the safety of my apartment in Oakland, California, I had two thoughts: First, I was glad to be headed to the farmers’ market that Saturday morning—and glad not to be serving as secretary of homeland security anymore. Second, it was clear that the incident, however bizarre it appeared on the surface, revealed systemic failures far more serious than any being discussed in the media. What if this had been not an accident, but a hack by a hostile actor intended to cause chaos not only in one American city or state but in many? What if the goal had been to distract Americans and provide cover for another type of attack? What if public panic caused traffic accidents or heart attacks? A breakdown in public order?

In the four years I led the Department of Homeland Security, I learned from the inside that the greatest threats to our safety play out differently from how political speeches and news reports might have us believe. True security means educating the public about which dangers are real and likely and which are not. Hours after a man killed more than four dozen people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, President Donald Trump downplayed the threat of violence by white-supremacist groups—and went on to contend that the United States is under “invasion” from the south. In fact, mass shootings are genuine security problems. Natural disasters and cyberattacks are genuine security problems. Undocumented immigrants supposedly running over an open border by the millions and attacking Americans on the streets are not.

In a huge and open nation, there will never be enough money, gates, guns, or guards to run down every potential threat. Homeland security works when we adhere to proven principles of law enforcement, national security, and disaster management, and when we integrate those principles with the best data science and other technological innovations available and update them constantly. We get into trouble when political ideology is thrown into the mix. A stubborn or willful misreading of the threat environment leads to poor management of resources and results in failure. And in this regard, I regret to say, we are backsliding terribly.

Border protection is one such area. Vetting travelers primarily by nation of origin, as President Trump’s ban on travelers from certain predominantly Muslim countries does, is not a very effective way of catching terrorists. While offering the illusion of toughness, the ban misdirects our efforts. Rather than directing Customs and Border Protection to fend off every traveler from, say, Syria or Yemen, the agency’s resources are better spent when focused on people who, regardless of which passport they use, have suspicious connections and a pattern of traveling to suspicious places.

Meanwhile, meat-ax policies such as Trump’s ban provide propaganda points to adversaries and antagonize our allies in the Islamic world—governments whose cooperation has, in the past, helped us immensely. They become, as a result, less reliable partners in endeavoring to mitigate threats to the United States on their soil before those threats mature on ours. We become a go-it-alone nation in protecting our own security rather than working with partners. Similarly, the border wall between the United States and Mexico threatens to waste money, attention, and political capital and antagonize Mexico, our neighbor and ally. In 2013, Mexican intelligence helped the United States foil a plot by an Iranian American who tried to recruit a Mexican drug cartel to bomb a Washington, D.C., restaurant where the Saudi ambassador to the United States dined. We would like Mexico to continue helping us in this way.

Read: Why Trump keeps creating crises

The choice is not between an open border and a wall. To promote security and the rule of law, we should focus on smart, cost-effective solutions to securing the border. There are far more effective measures involving technology and hybrid approaches combining physical barriers, surveillance, and the presence of agents that can secure the border.

We are also moving backwards on immigration enforcement. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s important.

I have a strong sense that the US is facing a defining crisis. It could go very bad very quickly, and based on what we see, that is increasingly likely. Do any others sense this?

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2019 at 5:11 pm

Trump Shut Down Programs That Could Help Stop the Next White Nationalist Attack

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Tess Owen writes in Vice:

Last week, after the deadly mosque attacks in New Zealand, President Trump was asked whether he believed white nationalism was a growing threat. “I don’t, really,” he replied. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

Terrorism experts firmly disagree, pointing to data that says far-right extremist violence in the U.S. and Europe is becoming more frequent and potentially more deadly.

But while other countries have taken significant steps to identify the threat and counter it through dedicated intelligence programs, the Trump administration has cut or cancelled initiatives that were designed to combat domestic extremism.

Shortly after taking office, the administration defunded the Obama-era Countering Violent Extremism Program, which launched in 2016 and had allocated $10 million toward organizations fighting domestic extremism. In addition, the administration froze funds that had already been allocated, including a $400,000 grant for Hope Not Hate, a Chicago-based organization that deradicalizes neo-Nazis.

“In the U.S., we lack any political will to deal with it appropriately. That’s due in part to the nationalist politics that define the right-wing extremist movement at home,” said Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent who was involved in numerous high-profile counterterrorism operations, and is now executive director of the Soufan Center, an organization dedicated to researching global security issues. “We’re not doing much to counter it.”

Terrorism experts say the New Zealand attack is further evidence that far-right extremism is now a global terror threat, often originating and spreading in the online world. The New Zealand attacker, who left 50 dead, published a lengthy manifesto online that revealed his deep entrenchment in the modern white supremacist movement, which is connected internationally via forums like 8chan and 4chan and gaming chat rooms, and amplified through social media.

“After 50 people were murdered, the president never called it terrorism. That makes that blind spot even more glaring,” said Soufan. “Unfortunately we see some sort of compliance when it comes to dealing with the ideology and actions of right-wing extremism.”


The Department of Homeland Security’s “Office of Community Partnerships,” which oversaw the extremism program, had a budget of $21 million and a staff of 16 full-time employees and 25 contractors under Obama. The Trump administration rebranded it “The Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships” soon after taking office, cut its staff to eight full-time employees, and reduced its budget to less than $3 million.

Former Director George Selim resigned in June 2017, saying that the environment had become “too polarized” and he felt he could no longer do his job effectively.

That was months before hundreds of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the violent “Unite the Right” in August 2017.

The data shows far-right extremism is a bigger problem than Islamic extremism in the U.S. There have been more than 70 deadly attacks by the far right in the U.S. in the last 17 years, compared to 26 carried out by radicalized Muslims, according to an analysis by NPR last October, citing research from private organizations and federal data.

A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the number of active hate groups in the U.S. reached a record high of 1,020 in 2018, driven largely by a surge in white nationalist groups.

In 2018, far-right extremists carried out a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killed two black people who were grocery shopping in Kentucky, and waged a weeklong package-bombing campaign targeting the president’s biggest critics.

Days after the New Zealand attacks, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged the dangers of domestic terrorism but stopped short of calling it far-right extremism. “We, too, have seen the face of such evil with attacks in places such as Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and Charleston,” she said as part of her “state of national security” speech Monday.

“My department assesses that the primary terrorist threat to the United States continues to be from Islamist militants and those they inspire,” Nielsen said, “but we should not—and cannot—ignore the real and serious danger posed by domestic terrorists.”

In an email to VICE news, DHS spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton wrote that the “Department of Homeland Security was committed to combating all forms of violent extremism, especially movements that espouse racial supremacy or bigotry.”

“DHS takes all threats to the homeland, both foreign and domestic, very seriously,” Houlton wrote. “To suggest otherwise is an affront to the men and women of DHS that work tirelessly every day to ensure the safety of the American people.”

At the Department of Justice, efforts to contain domestic right-wing extremism have been confined largely to prosecuting celebrated hate crimes and launching a website. In response to a question from VICE News, a spokesperson sent examples of prosecutions for hate crimes under the Trump administration, including the prosecution of the young neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a crowd of protesters during the Charlottesville rally in 2017.

They also noted that two days after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last October, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein allocated nearly $900,000 to the University of New Hampshire to conduct “a national survey of hate crime incidents and victimization.”

Rosenstein also said that the Justice Department was directing some funds to improving hate crime prosecution and data collection, including launching a new hate crimes website.


These efforts contrast with other Western countries, which have taken a much more aggressive stance toward far-right extremism. “Our allies recognize how dangerous this threat is,” Soufan said.

Both Germany and the United Kingdom, which have also seen recent resurgences in far-right extremist activity, have dedicated significant resources to the problem. Last year, MI5 — the U.K.’s domestic counterintelligence agency — was given additional authority to gather intelligence and monitor far-right extremist groups for possible threats to national security. The decision signaled that the British intelligence community were treating far-right extremism with the same level of seriousness as they do Islamist and Northern Ireland-related terrorism.

Meanwhile, Germany is planning to grow “Department Two” of its federal domestic intelligence agency, which monitors far-right extremism, by 50 percent in 2019. “On numbers, I won’t comment. They are secret,” said Thomas Haldenwang, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, in December. “But my goal for the department on right-wing extremism is that it approach the size of our largest department that works on Islamist terrorism.”

In January, Germany’s domestic spy agency announced it was investigatingthe far-right, anti-immigrant political party AfD for possible violations of the constitutional safeguards against extremism.


But experts say that the Obama administration also failed to heed warnings about the threat posed by the far right.

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, an analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, issued a report warning about a potential resurgence of right-wing extremism, driven by the financial crisis, and by the election of America’s first black president. His report warned that returning military veterans, in particular, might be targeted for recruitment by far-right extremists.

Republicans demanded DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano retract his report, and called for him to be fired. The American Legion, an organization representing veterans, also blasted the report and demanded an apology. Eventually, Napolitano issued an apology, and withdrew the report. Johnson left DHS in 2010 after his team was disbanded.

Today, he runs DT Analytics, a private security consulting firm for state and local law enforcement, and is considered a national expert in domestic extremism. Johnson said he expected the far-right threat to peter out after Obama’s presidency and when Republicans took back control of the White House.

Now, he says, he was wrong.

“The fact that it’s still operating at a heightened level, despite Republicans being in power, is very concerning, and goes against the trending I’ve seen in 40 years,” said Johnson. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2019 at 2:55 pm

Here’s Every Defense of the Electoral College — and Why They’re All Wrong

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

Human beings evolved to deceive themselves, so as to better deceive each other. This is because we are social animals who spent our formative years living in tight-knit, tribal communities in which our prospects for survival were maximized by maintaining the approval of the collective — whileadvancing our own individual (and/or factional) interests. And one handy way to reconcile those competing objectives was to develop a talent for inventing ostensibly neutral rules that would, in practice, give you or your crew some distinct advantage in intragroup conflicts — along with arguments for why said rules were ethically necessary, irrespective of their substantive implications.

Over time, however, natural selection weeded out our most gullible ancestors. The surviving homo sapiens had a gift for recognizing the telltale signs of deceit. Soon, they could see that Short Gary’s left eyebrow twitched every time he explained that fairness required giving the tribe’s shortest member the largest slice of fish (as this was what the Founding Fishers had intended). Thus, the Short Garys of the world were killed and eaten. And eventually, their successors developed a more optimal means of camouflaging their own interests in arguments about procedural fairness: They became adept at convincing themselves that justice required whatever arbitrary principle would get them the biggest slice of fish — and thus, betrayed no signs of deceit when trying to convince others.

And this is how a bunch of supernaturally self-deluded apes came to inherit the Earth.

Or so my foggy memory of evolutionary psychology would suggest. And after sifting through a variety of conservative defenses of the Electoral College, it’s hard not to conclude that this account is basically right.

At a CNN town hall Monday night, Elizabeth Warren argued that America should elect presidents by a national popular vote. “We need to make sure that every vote counts. And you know, I want to push that right here in Mississippi. Because I think this is an important point,” the Democratic presidential candidate told a crowd in Jackson. “My view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

An overwhelming majority of the American public agree. And yet, an overwhelming majority of GOP operatives, public intellectuals, and politicians do not.

The simplest explanation for this discrepancy is that professional Republicans believe (consciously or otherwise) that the existing election rules benefit their party. After all, the GOP has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. And since the Electoral College gives disproportionate influence to whiter, more rural states — and the GOP is becoming increasingly reliant on white, rural voters — the existing conservative coalition is poised to continue deriving a benefit from the status quo rules for cycles to come.

This puts conservative pontificators in the unenviable position of having to defend an archaic, undemocratic system that does not work as its authors intended, or as the American public desires, on the grounds that it is a uniquely fair and rational way of electing the nation’s most powerful officeholder.

Terrible arguments ensue. And these awful products of motivated reasoning are joined by the awful products of status quo bias (which leads some small number of liberals to defend the Electoral College) in a noxious stew of nonsensical arguments against allowing popular democracy to determine control of at least one branch of our government.

Fortunately, I (and everyone who agrees with me on this subject) have escaped the shackles of subjectivity, and know the objective truth about the Electoral College. And so, I can provide you, dear reader, with a rundown of some of the most prominent arguments for preserving that vile institution — and why all of them are wrong. Defenses of the Electoral College tend to fall into one of three broad categories, and so we’ll examine each genre in turn.

1. The Electoral College currently exists, therefore it is good.

(A) The founders thought superhard about this, and so we should defer to their judgement.

From Allen Guelzo and James Hulme’s Washington Post op-ed, “In Defense of the Electoral College”:

The Founders who sat in the 1787 Constitutional Convention lavished an extraordinary amount of argument on the electoral college, and it was by no means one-sided … The Founders also designed the operation of the electoral college with unusual care. The portion of Article 2, Section 1, describing the electoral college is longer and descends to more detail than any other single issue the Constitution addresses. More than the federal judiciary — more than the war powers — more than taxation and representation.

This isn’t the op-ed’s only argument. But the authors devote a solid 350 words of their short column to saying, essentially, “Look, our finest slaveholders already debated all this only a couple decades before the advent of the steam engine, so why reopen this can of worms?” And they are hardly alone in presenting “the founders said so” as a trump card.

The trouble with this argument is twofold. First, the founders were (mostly) a collection of land speculators who built their fortunes by ethnically cleansing Native Americans, and slavers who built theirs by participating in one of the greatest atrocities in world history. Most did not believe in popular democracy (as the vast majority of Americans do today). As political theorists, these dudes were so foresighted, they assumed that America would never have political parties.

None of this means that some of them weren’t brilliant, or that they didn’t build some institutions that are worth preserving. But it does mean we’re talking about incredibly flawed, extremely dead human beings, not philosopher kings appointed by God. Thus, there is no reason to reflexively defer to their judgement — which was itself the product of compromise between disparate interests, not Socratic dialogue on the ideal form of the state. Some founders favored the popular vote; others wanted to leverage their chattel into disproportionate political power.

Understandably, Hulme and Guelzo are eager to deny these grubby origins, writing:

Above all, the electoral college had nothing to do with slavery. Some historians have branded the electoral college this way because each state’s electoral votes are based on that “whole Number of Senators and Representatives” from each State, and in 1787 the number of those representatives was calculated on the basis of the infamous 3/5ths clause. But the electoral college merely reflected the numbers, not any bias about slavery (and in any case, the 3/5ths clause was not quite as proslavery a compromise as it seems, since Southern slaveholders wanted their slaves counted as 5/5ths for determining representation in Congress, and had to settle for a whittled-down fraction). [Emphasis mine.]

There are multiple issues with this defense. For one thing, some southern framers were quite forthright about the nature of their concerns. As Jamelle Bouie notes:

Hugh Williamson of North Carolina made this point explicit in his objection: Because there won’t always be “distinguished characters” with national recognition who could win a majority of votes, “the people will be sure to vote for some man in their own State, and the largest State will be sure to succeed.” But this will not be Virginia, “since her slaves will have no suffrage.”

And even if this hadn’t been the case, Hulme and Guelzo’s argument would be nonsensical. If the framers had adopted a popular-vote system, then only the enfranchised would have influenced presidential elections — and thus, slavers wouldn’t have been able to leverage their human property into outsized political influence. This is not complicated. Furthermore, what, precisely, is “in any case, the 3/5ths compromise wasn’t that pro-slavery since the plantation owners wanted it to be 5/5ths” supposed to prove?

But the most fundamental problem with the idea that we should defer to framer’s judgement is this: Almost immediately after writing the rules for presidential elections into the Constitution, the leaders of our republic realized they’d made a mistake (which is why the 12th Amendment exists). Among other things, making the Electoral College runner-up the vice-president proved to be deeply problematic the moment political parties took hold. If we were actually committed to honoring the founders’ intentions, then Hillary Clinton would be Donald Trump’s vice-president today. This would surely make for a fine sitcom premise, but few would describe it as a rational way to run a White House.

(B) It would put us on a slippery slope to abolishing the Senate.

From Red Jahncke’s column in The Hill, “Think We Should Do Away With the Electoral College? Think Again.”

We are both a democracy and a federation of states. The Electoral College was designed specifically to prevent the tyranny of big states over small states, as was the U.S. Senate, which affords all states, large and small, equal representation. If we do away with the Electoral College, we might as well do away with the Senate.

Guelzo offers similar sentiments in another pro–Electoral College piece for National Affairs:

Abolishing the Electoral College now might satisfy an irritated yearning for direct democracy, but it would also mean dismantling federalism. After that, there would be no sense in having a Senate (which, after all, represents the interests of the states), and eventually, no sense in even having states, except as administrative departments of the central government.

The biggest problem with this slippery-slope argument is that it’s implausible: There is strong majoritarian support for abolishing the Electoral College, and a way to effectively nullify it without changing the Constitution (the National Popular Vote interstate compact). This is not the case for abolishing the Senate. .

But the more basic problem with this species of Electoral College defense is that it boils down to “federalism exists, therefore it ought to.” Why states shouldn’t exist as mere administrative departments of a central government (with some measure of local autonomy) goes largely unexamined. It is not as though our state lines were drawn for the purpose of giving centuries-old, indigenous ethnic groups the opportunity to exercise a modicum of self-determination. Rather, most state lines don’t even have a geological basis, and merely reflect the political interests of those in power when they were drawn. It is not as though Wyoming’s white majority has an ancient connection to its land, and a distinct culture that fundamentally divides them from the other peoples of the Mountain West. There is no reason to treat it as a semi-sovereign entity that must be indulged, lest it break from the union. We are not an infant republic anymore. A secession crisis is very low on our list of tail risks.

There may be some virtue in decentralizing power and creating opportunities for policy experimentation on the subnational level. But that does not require inflating Wyoming’s influence over presidential elections or congressional legislation.

By contrast, the case for not requiring all legislation to pass through an upper chamber that is wildly malapportioned — such that Wyoming residents get 66 times more say in the Senate than Californians do — is quite simple: In a democracy, individual citizens should have roughly equal representation in their governing institutions. Achieving perfect equality in this respect is impossible; but designing a more representative legislature than the U.S. Senate is not. In fact, every U.S. state has already done so. If abolishing the Electoral College will eventually destroy the Senate, that only makes the case for Warren’s proposal more compelling.

2. Abolishing the Electoral College would definitely have this bad effect, for reasons so logically sound I don’t need to provide evidence for them (even though other defenders of the Electoral College insist it would have the opposite effect, which would also be bad).

(A) It would give too little political power to white people. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more and it’s worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2019 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Election, Government, Law

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